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The Gulf in 2023: Challenges and Priorities

Featured speakers: Ambassador Patrick Theros, Alia Moubayed, Dr. David Pollock, and Dr. Jean-Loup Samaan.


As the Russian invasion of Ukraine enters its second year, the conflict has decisively shaped political and economic issues in the Gulf. The rapid increase in oil and gas prices in the aftermath of the invasion has come as a boon to the GCC states, giving some of them a sizable budget surplus for the first time in years and easing pressures for economic reform. High oil and gas prices have also increased the Gulf’s strategic importance, giving its governments greater stature in international affairs. Both the United States and China have taken high-profile visits to the Gulf in the past year, encouraging GCC leaders to lower oil prices and increase strategic partnership. Each of the GCC capitals, and Riyadh and Abu Dhabi in particular, have used their newfound status to seek concessions from the two superpowers, playing them off against each other for their own interests.

At the same time, Iranian assistance to Russia during the conflict—providing the Kremlin with Iranian-made missiles and drones—has dashed early hopes that the United States and Europe would attempt to renegotiate the JCPOA in order to allow Iranian oil to flow once more. Instead, Tehran’s crackdown on its ongoing protest movement has made the agreement politically untenable in the West. Negotiations between Iran and Saudi Arabia have also failed to make progress in resolving the two rivals’ longstanding disputes, although further negotiations are planned for the coming year.

What does 2023 hold for the Gulf? Will the region’s windfall from high hydrocarbon prices decrease the odds of successful economic diversification? What role will the United States and China play in the region? Will Iran’s political crisis make it less likely to engage in regional adventurism, or will it seek to fight foreign enemies to distract from its problems at home? At a time of relative prosperity, could intra-GCC tensions flare up once again?

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