Despite Obama’s Assurances at GCC Summit, Doubts Remain about Iran Policy

The Associated Press described Obama as “pointedly mentioning the potential use of military force” and quoted him as saying that the US maintained “ironclad commitment” to the security of Saudi Arabia and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council. The Miami Herald added that the summit set the stage for streamlined weapons sales to those countries. It had previously been reported that this would be the result if the US followed through on prospective plans to give the GCC “major non-NATO ally” status.

But the Herald added that while security cooperation was promised at the summit, very few details were released. The paper quoted Tamara Cofman Wittes of the Brooking Institute’s Center on Middle East Policy as saying, “No matter what equipment or systems the United States is willing to sell to its Arab partners, no matter what aid it is willing to provide, no matter what U.S. assets the administration is prepared to base in the region – our partners are looking for a different kind of reassurance.”

Furthermore, the Gulf States released a statement after the summit indicating that they would coordinate new military training, arms transfers, terrestrial and maritime maneuvers, and region-wide ballistic missile capabilities. This reflects what some see as a loss of the Gulf States’ trust in US leadership, which has prompted them to strike out on their own, as by seemingly defying the Obama administration’s preferences through unilateral action against Iranian influence in Yemen.

Critics of the Obama administration’s rapprochement with Iran have been sensitive to the motivations behind such actions. Real Clear Politics pointed out on Friday that the AP’s Julie Pace challenged the question on his reassurances of Arab allies in a press conference following the Camp David summit.

“On the Gulf’s main concern, Iran’s destabilizing activity in the region, how can you really assure them that Iran would not continue that activity, if they had an influx of money from sanctions relief, when they’re already accused of doing so now with a weaker economy?” Pace asked.

Similar questions remain regarding whether sanctions relief would provide Iran with resources to channel into further illicit nuclear activity. This danger was highlighted by The Tower on Friday when it pointed out that in January the Czech Republic halted Iran’s attempted purchase of compressors that could be used as part of a nuclear program involving highly enriched uranium.

The Tower also placed this story in context with previous reports that Iran had purchased prohibited materials for the Arak heavy water facility, which could provide the country with a plutonium pathway to a nuclear weapon. What’s more, there is evidence that last year Tehran purchased enough carbon fiber to build 1,000 advanced centrifuges in an as-yet unknown enrichment location, likely the Lavizan-3 site that was revealed in February by the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

Fears of further illicit activity along these lines would be especially strong if the final nuclear agreement lacked comprehensive verification. In online talks at the website IranFreedom.org, former US Special Envoy for Nuclear Nonproliferation Robert Joseph and University of Baltimore Public and International Affairs Professor Ivan Sascha Sheehan both alleged that the agreement taking shape on the basis of the April 2 framework appears to provide no guarantees of verification. Both scholars stated that adequate verification would include access to Iranian national security sites, something that the Iranian leadership has flatly rejected.

However, in the Thursday press conference following the summit and also in general communications on the Iran nuclear issue, President Obama referred to a “comprehensive, verifiable deal” that cuts off all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon.

In response to a question from Ms. Pace about whether the GCC countries had declared explicit acceptance of the nuclear negotiations, Obama demurred by saying that the deal was not complete, and that the Gulf States thus had nothing specific to sign off on. In keeping with this view, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said that his government was withholding judgment on whether the final agreement would be acceptable or not, according to the AP.

But President Obama has apparently worked to spin this deferral into claims that the Gulf States have embraced the administration’s overall strategy toward Iran. The AP quoted the president as saying that the leaders at the Camp David summit had said “that a comprehensive, verifiable solution that fully addresses the regional and international concerns about Iran’s nuclear program is in the security interests of the international community, including our GCC partners.”

While there is little debate over this claim, what remains highly contentious is the idea that the administration’s negotiations stand a reasonable chance of fulfilling this goal. Obama faces many critics who believe that the Iranian regime cannot be trusted to follow through on its obligations, and the leaders of the Gulf States are certainly among them. Many commentators perceived the absence of four major heads of state including Saudi King Salman as a snub of the Obama administration and a rejection of his soft approach to the nuclear issue and to Iran in general.