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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 19 August 2018

Plans for US-GCC summit comes at a pivotal moment

Arab world will have a chance to press on key issues, including Syria, Palestine and Iran

US President Donald Trump holds meets with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on March 20, 2018. Saul Loeb / AFP
US President Donald Trump holds meets with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on March 20, 2018. Saul Loeb / AFP

Reports of US plans to host a summit in October with GCC states, Egypt and Jordan comes at a crucial moment in Middle Eastern developments – one marked by pockets of volatility and instability and as international alliances are being tested. From the increasingly pressing question of a fair peace deal in the Arab-Israeli conflict – which was inflamed by the decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem in May – to Iran's military ambitions, this is a region in flux. Although US-GCC relations are reaffirmed annually with a scheduled meeting, The National reports today that this summit will be larger and more extensive than those that preceded it. In spite of periods of strain during the previous administration of Barack Obama, the strategic relationship between the GCC and the US remains strong, with strategic interests at its heart. Coming at a pivotal moment for the region, the planned summit is expected to further fortify US-Gulf ties and seek stability in the region.

Tehran’s ongoing efforts to destabilise the Middle East are likely to top the agenda. There was significant disquiet among GCC members when former US president Barack Obama failed to follow through on promises of working to stabilise the region, and failing to act against the regime of Bashar Al Assad in Syria, despite his relentless campaign of barrel bombing and chemical attacks. Gulf states also opposed the flawed Iran nuclear deal, which Mr Obama negotiated. The agreement, which Mr Trump has now rejected, merely emboldened and enriched the Iranian regime – and those who suffer the worst excesses of Iranian meddling are its neighbours. Both Mr Trump himself and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, have shown a determination to hold Iran to account using US economic and diplomatic power. That course of action is a source of agreement in the US relationship with most of its Arab allies.

And rightly so. From Hezbollah in Lebanon to the Houthi rebels in Yemen, Tehran and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps have armed and funded the forces of regional disruption. Yemen is also likely to be a source of intense debate in October. The Saudi-led coalition (which includes the US) currently engaged in a mission to restore Yemen’s internationally recognised government, has paused its military offensive to give UN envoy Martin Griffiths an opportunity to bring Yemenis to the negotiating table. It is hoped – for the sake of its people and the wider region – that come October, there will have been a breakthrough in Yemen’s tragic war and a process to restore its legitimate government. Also on the agenda will be energy co-operation and the safeguarding of maritime trade routes such as the Strait of Hormuz and Bab Al Mandeb, which are crucial to maintaining the security of both Yemen and the wider region. Tehran and it’s proxies have threatened these vital lifelines.

There are sources of disagreement, not least about the future of Palestine. The US-GCC meeting will lend a vital moment to raise all these, and more.

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