Economic integration

Gulf states cooperate on defense, Iran and economic integration at summit

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) held its annual summit in Riyadh yesterday.

The GCC expressed its unity on several regional issues during the event, particularly on Iran. The GCC accused Iran of “fomenting sectarian strife” in GCC member states and of supporting “terrorism” in Bahrain. They further condemned Iran’s alleged “support for sectarian terrorist groups and militias” in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. They specifically mentioned the Houthi forces in Yemen, according to an official summary.

Iran supports the Houthi rebels against the internationally recognized government in the Yemeni civil war. A Saudi-led military coalition fights directly on behalf of the government. In Bahrain, the government regularly accuses Iran of supporting suspected terrorist groups in the country.

The GCC also supported the UAE in its territorial dispute with Iran over the Abu Musa and Tunb Islands.

At the same time, the GCC noted “the importance for council members to participate in any negotiations with Iran” and to have relations with Iran in general. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have held talks with Iran this year in an attempt to mend their long fractured relationship.

The summit also indicated the improvement in the state of relations between Qatar and the other Gulf states. The GCC praised Qatar’s “success” in hosting the 2022 World Cup, which will take place in Doha. The Gulf’s diplomatic split ended in January when Qatar reconciled with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. The countries have since restored normal relations.

The leaders also discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They condemned the “eviction” of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem, which refers to the housing conflict in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. They further condemned the visit in November of Israeli President Isaac Herzog to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, aka Ibrahimi Mosque, in the West Bank town of Hebron. The site is sacred to Jews and Muslims, and there are long-standing tensions between Israeli settlers and the surrounding Palestinians. The GCC also reiterated its calls for a Palestinian state.

The GCC further called for greater defense cooperation between member states.

The meeting was not entirely political, and leaders also discussed ways to improve economic integration in the Gulf. The GCC agreed to establish a Railway Authority to help build a rail network between the Gulf countries. They also expressed their approval to accelerate the formation of a common customs union.

The GCC was founded in 1981. Its members are Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman.