November 26, 2013 | Policy Brief

The Gulf Reaction to Geneva

November 26, 2013 | Policy Brief

The Gulf Reaction to Geneva

Coverage of international responses to the Iranian nuclear deal has focused primarily on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s warning that the agreement is a “historic mistake.” However, America’s monarchical allies in the Persian Gulf are generally just as concerned in private as Netanyahu has been in public.

Officially, the six states in the Gulf Cooperation Council – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates – issued separate statements on Sunday and Monday formally welcoming the nuclear agreement.

In reality, most of the GCC has been apoplectic about U.S. talks with Iran since even before the P5+1 convened for the first time in Geneva earlier this month. 

Whereas Saudi Arabia’s cabinet meeting yesterday, which issued a benign (if skeptical) statement on Geneva, was chaired by Crown Prince Salman, one need only look to a newspaper controlled by his son to see a more genuine reflection of Saudi views.  In a scathing editorial, Al Eqtisadiah asks “did Washington Betray its Gulf allies?” then proceeds to answer in the affirmative.  Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya television cited the article as part of a broader trend of Saudi editorials condemning Geneva as a major breach of trust between America and its Gulf allies.

Ominously, a prominent member of Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council warned that if Iran gets nuclear weapons, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, and perhaps the UAE will do so as well.   This is an explicit threat of the Middle Eastern “nuclear cascade” that some analysts have forewarned.

The Saudis are reportedly so concerned about Iran getting the bomb that they may have even tipped Israel off about secret talks between America and Iran.

There is not a lot of support for the Geneva deal among other Gulf states, either.  A prominent Emirati analyst, Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, cautions: “countries in the region no longer have any confidence in the U.S.”  Indeed, the consensus view within the Gulf is probably best encapsulated by a political cartoon (pictured above) that ran in the Kuwaiti newspaper Rai Al-Youm.  The cartoon equates the success of Iranian influence with suggesting that an agreement will only lead to Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, undermining the prospect for peace along the way.

Oman, perhaps the most agnostic of the Gulf states, declared that it had “followed the negotiations with interest,” a particular irony given that the Associated Press just revealed Oman has been hosting secret talks between top U.S. and Iranian officials since March.

But in the weeks and months ahead, most of the Gulf states can be counted to keep up their façade of support for the deal while they privately panic.

David Andrew Weinberg is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.