In the expectation of a nuclear deal in June, the Gulf monarchies are worried about an emboldened, enriched Iran expanding its reach and they are seeking reassurance at this month’s Camp David summit
The leaders of the Gulf Arab states are due to fly to the US in mid-May for a two-day summit with Barack Obama in the White House and then in Camp David, a presidential favour largely seen by the guests as compensation for the emerging nuclear deal with Iran.
The invitees are expected to suppress their doubts about the deal for the sake of good manners. As one senior Gulf official put it: “We’re not going to do a Netanyahu.”
For the most part, he did not express those concerns in terms of Iranian breakout times for making a bomb, or uranium enrichment capacity. In the event of a completed deal at the end of June, which this official saw as a foregone conclusion, his most immediate worry was the economic boost Iran would receive from sanctions relief.
The Gulf monarchies see this money as a potential Iranian slush fund for cultivating militia on the model of Lebanon’s Hizbullah. They see the Houthis in Yemen in the same light. This official claimed there were as many as 5,000 Iranian, Hizbullah, and Iraqi Shia trainers in Yemen, under Iranian supervision.
At the Camp David meeting with Obama, he said, the Gulf states would want “more than just a photo opp and a political statement”.
This agreement would take the form of a memorandum of understanding, and would be accompanied by arms sales and support that would give forces in the Gulf a “qualitative advantage” over Iran, a phrase echoing the guiding philosophy underpinning US military support for Israel.
There is due to be a meeting of foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries with US secretary of state, John Kerry, in Paris next week to prepare for the summit, and the containment plan would be debated there. Realistically, the Gulf official said, the outcome will fall between the photo opp he feared, and the paper agreement he hoped for, though what such a compromise would look like, he found it hard to say.