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Messages from the Mecca summits

Jun 04,2019 - Last updated at Jun 04,2019

There were a number of important messages coming out of Mecca last week after Saudi Arabia successfully concluded three important summits; Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Arab League and Organisation of Islamic Countries. The first was the almost unanimous condemnation of Iran’s continuous meddling in regional affairs and its growing threat to the stability of the region as a whole. Only Iraq objected to the Arab League’s final communiqué, while Qatar expressed reservations over the Arab League and GCC statements two days after the meetings had concluded.

The summits were held weeks after attacks took place on three oil tankers near the UAE port of Fujaira and oil pumping stations in Saudi Arabia. Iran backed Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for the latter, while the US pointed the finger at Tehran for the Fujaira incident. The two unprecedented attacks took place at the height of US-Iran tensions. Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) top brass had repeatedly threatened to disrupt oil shipments passing through the Strait of Hormuz and to destabilise the Gulf region if war with the US breaks out.

Iran’s record of meddling in regional affairs is long and grave. Evidence of its interference in the internal affairs of Bahrain, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen is piling up. While the Obama administration and the international community had negotiated a deal that would curtail Tehran’s nuclear activities, they failed to put restraints on Iran’s growing role in regional destabilisation. Even those who would defend Tehran’s activities, and they are in the minority, do so under pressure and for domestic objectives. While no one wants to see a war breaking out in the critically important Gulf region, the time had come to check Iran’s regional agenda. Calls for it to respect its neighbours and behave like a normal country had fallen on deaf ears.

While the message from Mecca was loud and clear, Iran continues to be defiant. There is no doubt that its isolation on the international stage is growing. The outcome of its faceoff with the US is unpredictable, and the few backers it has are unable to reverse its belligerent regional policy.

There is still time for Iranian leaders to steer away from cliffhanger politics. They can start by assuring their neighbours that they will end their interference in their domestic affairs. They can push their Houthi allies in Yemen to honour their commitments under the Stockholm agreement and previous declarations and resolutions. There is no alternative to a political settlement that would restore legality and order to the war-torn country. They can send a message of reconciliation by ending their proxy’s launching of drones and ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia.

Similar gestures can take place in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. But for that to happen, the regime must change its behaviour dramatically.

But regional countries must not lose sight of their own independent approach towards Tehran. They should not bank on what appears to be a dodgy US policy towards Iran. In the past few days, the US appeared to be walking back on the so-called [Mike] Pompeo’s 12 demands that the Secretary of State declared a year ago. They included, among others, ending support for the Houthis, ending development of ballistic missiles, respecting the sovereignty of the Iraqi government, halting support for terror groups, including Hizbollah and the Taliban and ending threats to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

But on Sunday, Pompeo said the United States, while calling on Iran to behave like a “normal nation”, was willing to talk to its leaders without preconditions. His about-face came few days after President Donald Trump toned down the rhetoric and said he was not seeking regime change in Iran. Pompeo seemed to respond to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who on Saturday suggested Iran may be willing to hold talks if the United States showed it respect.

Also, while Arab and Muslim leaders meeting in Mecca were unified in their defence of Palestinian rights and unwavering in their support for an independent Palestinian state along the 1967 lines with East Jerusalem as its capital, they should be careful in choosing their next step, especially with regard to the US-sponsored Bahrain economic workshop. Again, the message from Washington is ambiguous about the prospects of the so-called “deal of the century” aimed at ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On Monday, Pompeo was quoted by the Washington Post as telling Jewish leaders in a closed-door meeting last week that “one might argue” that the plan is “unexecutable” and it might not “gain traction.” He further added: “It may be rejected, could be in the end. I get why people think this is going to be a deal that only the Israelis could love. I understand the perception of that.”

Against such backdrop, it is vital that the Arab and Muslim stand on the Palestinian issue remains ironclad and that the message from Mecca be the only one, both public and private, that the US interlocutors hear every time.  

 

Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman

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