Oman IRRESPECTIVE of what action the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the UN Security Council take over Iran's nuclear programme in the next few months, the need to intensify international efforts to clear the air about Tehran's plan is crucial for the future of the Gulf region. The deadlock in the negotiations between Iran and the European Union-3, in consultations with the US, throws up a "damned if you do; damned if you don't" scenario for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.
Iran broke off two years of negotiations with Britain, France and Germany in August when it announced restarting a plant at Esfahan where it processes raw uranium yellowcake into a gas that can be further concentrated for either civilian or military use. Last week, the US and three major European nations postponed moves to refer Iran to the UN Security Council. The European Union and Russia are scheduled to meet in December and hold talks with Iranian negotiators in an attempt to end the standoff. The presence of another bloc in the form of the GCC could add further impetus to the process of resolving the crisis, not only for the GCC countries, but the EU as well.
If the international pressure eases, Tehran is bound to go full speed ahead with its nuclear programme.
Though the status of Iran's nuclear programme is ambiguous, there is no denying the real and immediate outcome of any development of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the (Persian) Gulf from a security, political, and environmental perspective. If the international pressure eases, Tehran is bound to go full speed ahead with its nuclear programme, which is both ominous and bound to add fuel to the historic mistrust between the GCC countries and Iran. It will then aggravate the feeling of insecurity in the region and perpetuate the role of external forces. On the other hand, if negotiations fail and military action comes into play, the GCC countries will be the first to bear the brunt of the impact given that the UAE is just about 40 nautical miles away from Iran.
In the event of the crisis going out of hand, the role of Iran's neighbouring countries is uncertain. Iraq - now administered by a Shi'ite-dominated regime - will like to cement its efforts at rapprochement and not reopen historical wounds. Moreover, for Iraq to stabilise, Iran needs to remain stable. Any American misadventure in Iran would leave the lid open for another volcano to erupt even as putting the lid back on the spewing one in Iraq is proving to be Herculean.
While the GCC countries have always been apprehensive about Iran, they will not like to be in a situation where they are forced to take sides yet again. Since there isn't much to guess about which side they would take in case of any eventuality, there is no doubt that they would then be left in a more vulnerable security scenario than they are currently in, thereby making immediate resolution of the crisis that much more important.
If security factors make the GCC a potential player in the resolution process, the EU's relevance in tiding over the crisis lies in its attraction for Iran's economic potential, its geo-strategic position, and the market vacuum left by the United States after it disallowed its companies from investing in Iran. There is little doubt that the EU - which is Iran's largest trading partner - will continue to rely on Iran's energy resources in the years to come, especially for gas.
Further, the EU must also recognise that the Gulf region is unique and vital to the entire world, irrespective of its geographical separation or cultural diversity. It is the main reservoir of the energy supply to the machinery of modern civilisation. Accordingly, the stability of the region must be a shared responsibility between the inhabitants of the region and the rest of the world.
In light of the above factors, the Gulf Research Center (GRC) - as a regional think tank concerned with the wider geopolitical and strategic dimensions of Gulf affairs and commitment to enhance regional security and stability - has launched two initiatives: one, make the Gulf a WMD-free zone; and two, encourage GCC-EU engagement. While the first initiative emerges from the urgency of considering preemptive measures against the Gulf region involving in a WMD arms race, the second acknowledges the inability of the GCC to tackle such issues on its own and the lack of popular US credibility.
The main objective of the “Gulf as a WMD-free zone” initiative is to use the lessons from countries and regions that faced similar crises in the past and managed viable solutions that protected the core interests of their people. Today, there are five well established nuclear-free zones around the globe involving more than 110 countries. Notable instances include the voluntary decision by South Africa to dismantle its nuclear arsenal in 1990, the historic agreements by the Latin American and Caribbean countries in 1967, South Pacific countries in 1985, African countries in 1996 and Central Asian countries in 2002.
While the entire Middle East region ought to be made a WMD-free zone, the Gulf could be the starting point for future regional security architecture. This will contribute toward reinforcing a new framework of security principles and - in the long-term - intensify pressure on any remaining countries that possess WMD capabilities to disarm.
For now, Iran's parliament has backed plans to begin uranium enrichment and end snap inspections by the United Nations if it is referred to the Security Council.
While the GCC countries have always been apprehensive about Iran, they will not like to be in a situation where they are forced to take sides yet again.
True, the GCC countries reject any nuclear threat from its neighbour; at the same time, they also reject any aggressive intent against Iran.
The GCC-Iran relations are rooted in geographic, cultural, political, economic and security considerations. At a time when many geographically distant countries are putting forward their vision and trying to protect their interests, the GCC countries must quit the wait-and-see position and try to get over the mutual misunderstanding with Iran. At the same time, the EU must make use of this opportunity to encourage such a development given the complementary nature of interests with the GCC. ENDS IRAN UAE NUCLEAR 71205
Editor’s note: Abdu’laziz Sager is the Chairman of the Gulf Research Center in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
This article was published by the English-language “Times of Oman” on 5 Dec.2005.
Highlights and some editorial works are by IPS