Gulf Reconciliation Council

The Right Way to Reassure the Gulf Monarchies

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, Riyadh, November 2013. (Jason Reed / Courtesy Reuters)

The interim nuclear agreement with Iran has been widely lauded in the West as a diplomatic coup. But it has also spooked many of Washington’s most important allies in the Persian Gulf. Whether or not the deal eventually leads to a permanent accord, it has stoked the Gulf states' anxieties about the wisdom of an agreement with Iran and Washington’s commitment to their long-term survival. The United States needs to make a serious effort to allay these fears; any long-term resolution to the Iranian nuclear standoff will otherwise be difficult to sustain.

If Iran is ever to abandon its nuclear ambitions, it will need to accept a distribution of power in the Gulf that encompasses a leading role for U.S. allies. And the region’s monarchies, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in particular, will need to reciprocate with respect to Tehran. For this to occur, Gulf rulers must be convinced that a lasting accord with the Islamic Republic will ultimately enhance their security. More specifically, they will need assurances that Iran will not pose an existential threat to their regimes, by fomenting domestic unrest or launching terrorist attacks at home, or by undermining their legitimacy in proxy fights abroad.

Washington can lay the groundwork for such a state of affairs by reassuring Gulf allies that it can blunt Iran’s ability to project power beyond its borders. At base, the United States must acknowledge that the Gulf’s perceptions of the Iranian threat differ from its own, and embrace a broader set of concerns than Iran’s nuclear program. Conveying this message convincingly will require innovative policies that go beyond the traditional alliance tools on which Washington has relied thus far.

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