By Javad Heirannia

PGCC might survive in name only: Chicago professor

December 14, 2018

TEHRAN – Robert R. Bianchi, a Professor at the University of Chicago, believes that “Nowadays, China and Russia are acquiring greater influence in Iran and the Persian Gulf nations so it is natural that Doha and Muscat are inviting them to balance the destabilizing consequences of American and Saudi policies.”

Professor Bianchi, who also teaches at the Shanghai International Studies University (SISU), adds that “It’s possible to say that Saudi Arabia and the UAE have virtually broken with the PGCC by forming a separate defense agreement that excludes the other members.”
He adds that “The PGCC might survive in name only.”

Following is the complete text of 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: Qatar and Oman are responding intelligently to profound shifts in the balance of power, both globally and in their immediate neighborhood. Doha and Muscat see the Trump administration trying to downgrade America’s responsibilities in the Middle East while inviting Saudi Arabia to escalate proxy wars with Iran all across the region. This has led to greater bloodshed in Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. Such a polarized environment severely threatens the longstanding practice in Qatar and Oman of preserving good relations with Iran and Washington at the same time. 

When small nations feel that a once friendly great power is withdrawing its protection, they usually seek alternative backing from strong states who can help them maintain their independence vis-à-vis quarrelling neighbors. Nowadays, China and Russia are acquiring greater influence in Iran and the Persian Gulf nations so it is natural that Doha and Muscat are inviting them to balance the destabilizing consequences of American and Saudi policies. Building new partnerships with Russia and China can encourage the U.S. to prolong its Persian Gulf involvement in the short run and prepare the way for replacing it in the long term. Hence, the diplomatic skills of Qatar and Oman pose a striking contrast to Saudi Arabia’s self-defeating path of overreach and isolation.

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: It’s possible to say that Saudi Arabia and the UAE have virtually broken with the PGCC by forming a separate defense agreement that excludes the other members. In successfully weathering the Saudi-Emirati boycott, Qatar has shown it can flourish with or without the PGCC’s blessing. Doha has built extensive economic and diplomatic ties with the Far East, Russia, and Europe—ties that quickly deepened during the boycott, making Qatar a stronger global actor than its adversaries.

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 might survive in name only. A continued U.S. effort to weaponize the PGCC by turning it into a Saudi-led coalition against Iran will cripple the organization and might eventually destroy it altogether. A viable PGCC needs to resist domination by a single member such as Saudi Arabia, prevent manipulation by a great power—particularly the U.S. or Britain—and avoid picking fights with powerful neighbors like Iran and Turkey.

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

A: A formal alliance is unlikely and unnecessary. Doha and Ankara both prefer quiet understandings that are fluid, specific, and non-binding. In the language of international relations, such arrangements are often called quasi-alliances or partial pacts. They allow both sides to hedge their bets and pursue multi-directional diplomacy as shifting circumstances require. Qatari and Turkish leaders realize they will not always agree on dealing with fast-moving events in such volatile areas as Libya, Somalia, Iraq, Syria, and Egypt. Informal understandings can let them cooperate when possible and go their separate ways when necessary.

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