Featured speakers: Ambassador Patrick Theros, Dr. David Pollock, Dr. Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, and Dr. Banafseh Keynoush.
As the Middle East awaits the outcome of the Vienna talks on reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between Iran and the P5+1, Gulf states and other powers in the Middle East engage in multi-party consultations on the future of the region. All are preparing for a new geopolitical stage to be set when, or if, Iran rejoins the regional economy and any changed stipulations of a new JCPOA. Should these talks succeed, Iran will likely seek to maintain (or even grow) its influence in the region, while enhancing its trade and economic relations. Various GCC states have anticipated this shift in the geopolitical conditions by opening talks with Tehran. In late 2021, the UAE’s national security adviser, Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan, visited Tehran while the Saudis and Iranians have had an ongoing direct dialogue for a year in Baghdad. The United States has played a role in improving cross-regional talks as well. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently visited Morocco, Algeria, Bahrain, UAE, and Israel. Blinken sequentially met with the foreign ministers of the UAE, Morocco, Bahrain, and Israel in Tel Aviv, and leaders of Iraq, UAE, Jordan, and Egypt met in Aqaba a day before. The war in Ukraine has also introduced new possibilities for improved regional relations, as it disrupts energy, trade, and economies in general.
Should these JCPOA talks prove unsuccessful, however, the Gulf states may be more hesitant to continue their de-escalation efforts with Iran. Growing normalization with Israel could also impact some GCC relations with Iran, regardless of whether a new JCPOA is agreed or not. The UAE, Morocco, and Bahrain signed normalization agreements with Israel in 2020 and 2021, and other Arab countries have seemingly warmed to the idea of opening channels of communication as well. Ongoing proxy conflicts between Iran, the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, especially in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, have left the geopolitics of the region in an even more complicated position, with a strong potential for change in historic alignments and rivalry in the region. Whether the new JCPOA is signed or not, the Gulf states will see a direct impact on the geopolitics of the region, with the balance of power potentially shifting, and creating a potential for increased conflict.
How will the new geopolitical scene impact seemingly strong bilateral Gulf ties? Will it create new relationships? How do the GCC states see their relationships with Israel and Iran playing out? Will the U.S. continue to play the major security role in the Gulf in a post-JCPOA situation? How do other international parties see the situation evolving?