By Javad Heirannia

PGCC was never effective organization: Shireen Hunter

December 11, 2018

TEHRAN - Shireen Tahmaasb Hunter, a professor of political science at Georgetown University, tells the Tehran Times that “the PGCC was never an effective organization. Certainly, it has been an unequal partnership in the sense that Saudi Arabia has dominated the Organization.”

“The PGCC was also created as a response to the 1979 Iranian revolution and the Iran-Iraq war, especially the perceived Iranian threat to the Persian Gulf security,” Hunter tells the Tehran Times.

She adds that “Now Iraq is practically out of the strategic equation at least for the foreseeable future. Iran no longer poses a viable ideological or security threat for the Gulf Arab states.”

Following is the text the interview:

Q: The Persian Gulf Cooperation Council's (PGCC) annual summit was held in Riyadh while the Qatari emir and the Sultan of Oman refrained from joining. What are the reasons behind this refusal?

A: The reluctance of Oman's and Qatar's leaders to attend the PGCC Summit and instead send lower level representation, reflects their differences with Saudi Arabia and their resentment of Riyadh's efforts to dominate the PGCC. Saudi Arabia's current problems following the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi has undermined its position and prestige, thus making it easier for Doha and Muscat to snub the kingdom.

Q: Qatar left OPEC and according to some reports, it might break-up with PGCC. Do you think that Qatar will leave the PGCC?

A: Qatar's decision to exit OPEC does not necessarily mean that it will leave the PGCC. However, given the divisions within the PGCC and the fact that most PGCC members sided with Saudi Arabia in its dispute with Qatar, it is conceivable that Qatar might leave the organization. However, given continued U.S. support for the PGCC, at least in the short term, such a decision might undermine Qatar's security as well as its position in confrontation with Saudi Arabia.

Q: The PGCC failed to find a purely internal collective solution to the Qatar crisis. With regard to this failure, how do you see the future of PGCC?

A: The PGCC was never an effective organization. Certainly, it has been an unequal partnership in the sense that Saudi Arabia has dominated the Organization. The PGCC was also created as a response to the 1979 Iranian revolution and the Iran-Iraq war, especially the perceived Iranian threat to the Persian Gulf security. Now Iraq is practically out of the strategic equation at least for the foreseeable future. Iran no longer poses a viable ideological or security threat for the Gulf Arab states. By contrast, it is the Saudi and Emirati ambitions and behavior that is destabilizing the region. In other words the very raison d'etre of the PGCC has disappeared. Therefore, it is no wonder that the PGCC failed to reconcile Qatar's and Saudi Arabia's diverging interests and outlooks.

Q: In case of Qatar's exit from PGCC, is there any possibility of a new alliance between Qatar and Turkey?

A: In the short term, the PGCC will survive, although its efficacy will be further undermined. In the long term, much would depend on what happens in Saudi Arabia and in Iran. A change in Saudi attitude in the direction of more cooperation and less bullying of regional actors might revitalize the PGCC. Iran's reintegration into the international community, could even provide an opportunity to transform the PGCC into a more inclusive regional organization, with Iraq and Iran also joining it. As to a closer Turkish -Qatari alliance, it is not clear what shape such alliance could take. Anything beyond what already exists, especially extensive military cooperation and greater Turkish military presence in the Persian Gulf, would trigger concerns in other regional states, including Iran and Saudi Arabia regarding Turkey's long term goals and ambitions. Greater Turkish military presence in the Persian Gulf could also cause anxieties among European countries.  In general bilateral alliances between Persian Gulf states and extra-regional states, including Turkey could be destabilizing. A viable security organization must include all of the Persian Gulf's littoral states. Other states such as Pakistan, Turkey and possibly Egypt could be affiliate members or participate as observers.

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