Unlike 2020, 2021 saw the many efforts at de-escalation, dialogue and normalization in the Middle East, in general, and in the Gulf region in particular. While these efforts did not resolve any conflicts, they opened channels of dialogue between nearly all regional and international rivals. Baghdad hosted several rounds of talks between Riyadh and Tehran, aimed at lowering tensions and perhaps resolving some issues between the two principal rivals in the Gulf. Turkey reached out to the UAE, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia after several years of hostility working on economic deals as a driver for de-escalation. The UAE seems to have taken the lead among GCC in seeking full normalization with Assad’s Syria. Finally, 2021 saw the end of the GCC rift and resumption of full relations by Riyadh and Abu Dhabi with Doha. Even the US and Iran have persevered through 8 difficult rounds of trying to revive the JCPOA, the multilateral deal to restrain Iran’s nuclear program. Nonetheless, none of these efforts have reached fruition and all remain works in progress.
What role has the Biden Administration played, intentionally or not, in the de-escalation? What obstacles need to be overcome to secure a deal between Riyadh and Tehran that would bring stability to Yemen and Lebanon? What are the prospects for success or failure of the JCPOA talks and how would they play out?
Speakers: Ambassador Patrick Theros, Dr. Lina Khatib, Alex Vatanka, and Dr. Ali Bakir.
Ambassador Patrick Theros (moderator)
Strategic Advisor, Gulf International Forum
Ambassador Theros has held such positions as Political Advisor to the Commander in Chief, Central Command; Deputy Chief of Mission and Political officer in Amman; Charge D’affaires and Deputy Chief of Mission in Abu Dhabi; Economic Counselor in Damascus; and U.S. Ambassador to the State of Qatar. In a career spanning almost 36 years, he also has served in diplomatic positions in Beirut, Managua, Dharan and Abu Dhabi, as well as in the Department of State. During that period, he earned four Superior Honor Awards. After retirement Ambassador Theros served as President of the U.S. Qatar Business Council in 2000-2017.
Dr. Lina Khatib
Director of Middle East and North Africa Programme, Chatham House
Dr. Lina Khatib is director of the Middle East and North Africa programme at Chatham House. She was formerly director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut and co-founding head of the Program on Arab Reform and Democracy at Stanford University’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law. Her research focuses on the international relations of the Middle East, Islamist groups and security, political transitions and foreign policy, with special attention to the Syrian conflict.
She is a research associate at SOAS, was a senior research associate at the Arab Reform Initiative and lectured at Royal Holloway, University of London. She has published seven books and also written widely on public diplomacy, political communication and political participation in the Middle East. Lina is a frequent commentator on politics and security in the Middle East and North Africa at events around the world and in the media.
Director of Iran Program and Senior Fellow, Frontier Europe Initiative, Middle East Institute
Alex Vatanka specializes in Middle Eastern regional security affairs with a particular focus on Iran. Before joining MEI in 2009, he was a Senior Analyst at Jane’s Information Group in London (2001-2009). Alex is also a Senior Fellow in Middle East Studies at the US Air Force Special Operations School (USAFSOS) at Hurlburt Field and teaches as an Adjunct Professor at DISAS at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. His focus include modern history of Iran; factional politics in the Islamic Republic; political-military relations in Iran; Iranian regional policies (with a particular South Caucasus, Central, Asia, the Gulf States, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan) and Iran’s relations with countries such as the US, China, Russia and the EU states. Born in Tehran, he holds a BA in Politics (Sheffield University, UK), and an MA in International Relations (Essex University, UK), and is fluent in Farsi and Danish.
Dr. Ali Bakir
Research Assistant Professor at the Ibn Khaldon Center for Humanities and Social Sciences, Qatar University
Dr. Ali Bakir is a Research Assistant Professor at the Ibn Khaldon Center for Humanities and Social Sciences at Qatar University. He is also a senior consultant and an analyst who specializes in geopolitical and security trends in the Middle East with a particular focus on Turkey’s foreign and defense policies, Turkey-Arab relations, foreign policies of GCC countries and Iran, great power politics, small states’ behavior, and emerging unconventional risks and threats. Dr. Bakir has over a decade of experience as a consultant – working with senior officials, decision makers, and other stakeholders for governmental, non-governmental, and private sector institutions across the region.