Uneasy Arab states in Persian Gulf watch US-Iran overtures from sidelines - The Washington Post

Uneasy Arab states in Persian Gulf watch US-Iran overtures from sidelines - The Washington Post...
washingtonpost.com 30/09/2013 News

Keywords:#Arab, #Arab_Spring, #Arabia, #Asia, #Associated_Press, #Barack_Obama, #Bashar_Assad, #Damascus, #Dubai, #Egypt, #Emirates, #General_Assembly, #Hassan_Rouhani, #Hillary_Rodham_Clinton, #Hosni_Mubarak, #Iran, #London, #Middle_East, #Near_East, #Obama, #Obama_administration, #Persian, #Persian_Gulf, #Persian_Gulf_states, #Post, #President, #Rouhani, #Russian, #Saudi, #Saudi_Arabia, #State_Department, #Syria, #Tehran, #Theodore, #U.N, #US, #United_Arab_Emirates, #Washington, #Washington_Post, #Washingtonpost.com, #White_House

By Associated Press, Updated: Monday, September 30, 9:31 AM
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Lost in the blizzard of attention on Iran’s cautious openings to the U.S. was another bit of noteworthy outreach by President Hassan Rouhani: Sending greetings to Saudi Arabia’s king and appealing for more cooperation between the two regional rivals.
Rouhani’s message last week also carried a subtext for Saudi Arabia and the other Western-allied Persian Gulf states. As Iran’s diplomatic profile rises with attempts to recalibrate its dealings with Washington, the Persian gulf rulers will have to make adjustments, too.
That’s not such an easy thing for the monarchs and sheiks to swallow.
Leaders such as Saudi King Abdullah are accustomed to having Washington’s undivided focus and a prominent voice in shaping policies over Iran, which Persian gulf officials routinely denounce for allegedly trying to undermine their rule through suspected proxies and spies.
The prospect of Iran and the U.S. becoming something less than arch foes — a flirtation at the U.N. General Assembly capped by President Barack Obama’s groundbreaking telephone call to Rouhani — pushes the Persian gulf states toward unfamiliar territory.
They certainly remain a pillar of U.S. diplomatic and military strategy in the region, with key bases and one of the State Department’s main Iran listening posts in Dubai. But a core reason for the cozy ties — beyond maintaining reliable oil supplies — has been mutual worries over Iran. That basis could now be chipped away slightly as Tehran and Washington explore possible direct talks over Iran’s nuclear program.
If nothing else, the Persian gulf’s Arab leaders may have to compete a bit harder for the White House’s ear.
“So much of the Persian gulf relationship with Washington has been built on the concerns over Iran: the U.S. bases, the huge Persian gulf arms purchases, the protection of oil shipments,” said Theodore Karasik, a security and political affairs analyst at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Persian gulf Military Analysis.
“All of a sudden, here’s the chance that the U.S. and Iran could start talking directly. That cuts the Persian gulf out of a loop somewhat,” he added.
Washington’s Persian gulf partners have already been feeling slightly under-appreciated.
When then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited the region last year she heard a list of complaints that included worries about Obama’s perceived strategic emphasis on Asia and how Washington failed to stand by their common ally, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, during the Arab Spring uprisings.
And the Persian gulf leaders — strong backers of Syria’s rebel forces — could hardly contain their displeasure when the U.S. pulled back from possible military action against Bashar Assad’s regime in favor of a Russian plan seeking the dismantlement of Damascus’ chemical arsenal.
A former U.S. diplomat in the region said that a senior Saudi official grumbled to him recently: I wish the Americans stood by us like the Russians stand by Assad. The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because the conversation recounted was private.
“There will no doubt be some tensions between the Obama administration and Persian gulf leaders” over Syria, said Ayham Kamel, a Middle East analyst at the Eurasia Group in London.
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