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Iran and the GCC: Pathways for Constructive Dialogue


Since its 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran has had a complicated relationship with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Some of the GCC states, notably Saudi Arabia, have been openly antagonistic towards the new Iran, and the rivalry between Tehran and Riyadh has spread to proxy conflicts in third countries around the Middle East. The Saudi government has long objected to Iran’s development of ballistic missiles, its nuclear program, and its support for militias in Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen. For its part, Tehran is nervous about the Saudis’ influence in Washington, and their seeming ability to sway Western policy and opinion against Iran, particularly during the Trump administration. Other GCC states have been more pragmatic; Kuwait and Oman have maintained cordial relations with Iran, while Qatar relied on Tehran during the 2017-2021 Gulf Crisis.

The election of Joe Biden changed the calculations of both the GCC and Iran. President Trump’s Iran policy was firmly aligned with Saudi Arabia’s objectives – “maximum pressure” through economic sanctions and diplomatic and military support for Riyadh. By contrast, President Biden promised more diplomatic engagement, ended U.S. support to Saudi Arabia in the war in Yemen, and promised to re-engage with Iran and resume participation in the JCPOA nuclear deal.

The recent changes are not limited to Washington. In recent weeks, several Gulf states’ officials have called for a renewed intra-regional dialogue with the current prospect of a less confrontational United States. The conditions might finally be right for an easing of tensions between Iran and its other Gulf neighbors.

Both Iran and Saudi Arabia have called for a dialogue in the past. What would constitute such a dialogue? If it were to take place, what outcomes would be likely? What role could the United States and the politically neutral GCC states play in a Saudi-Iranian détente? Finally, what conditions could lead to an end to Saudi-Iranian opposition and a stable peace in the Gulf?

Featured speakers: Dr. Dania Thafer (moderator), Professor Ross Harisson, Dr. Ali Vaez, Dr. Abdulhadi AlAjmi, and Dr. Azadeh Zamirirad.

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