Iran is a major security concern of the Gulf States. “We have a shared interest in preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power,” said Mustafa Alani, research director at the Gulf Research Centre in Dubai. Sami Alfaraj, President of the Kuwaiti Center for Strategic Studies said: “With only one atomic bomb in its arsenal, Iran would become an insurmountable regional power, a fact that would not contribute to the stability and security of our region.” Shortly after the passage of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1929 calling for stronger Iran sanctions, the Central Bank of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) told financial institutions “to freeze accounts and stop remittances in the names of individuals and entities mentioned in Resolution 1929.”
In June, EU leaders, going further than the UNSC resolution, agreed to impose stronger sanctions against Iran, including measures to block oil and gas investment. “Undoubtedly, such a confrontational approach may leave dire consequences in the relations between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the European Union,” Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said. He added: “There is no doubt that this measure against the Iranian nation will be recorded as a dark spot in the history of the bilateral relations.”
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Iran will not hold talks with the West over its nuclear weapons development program until late August, to “punish” world powers for imposing tougher sanctions against Tehran. Ahmadinejad accused the world powers of approving the latest sanctions to give them the “upper hand” in talks over the issue: “We call this bad behavior,” saying that talks would be postponed until August 20, and adding: “This is a fine to punish them a bit so that they learn the custom of dialogue with our nation.”
Support from the Gulf States is “crucial,” in order to put economic pressure on Iran, through trade and financial measures.
The Saudis, the UAE and other Gulf States are building up their naval capacity and missile defense systems to “steel themselves against Iran’s military buildup.” Even so, the Arab states are “nervous about upsetting a volatile neighbor” and are unlikely to go public about their support for sanctions and their cooperation with the US. However, four Gulf countries have agreed to have US anti-missile batteries placed on their territory. (UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar)
Trade between Dubai and Iran is “squeezed” by sanctions. Dubai is a key source of imports for Iran. The trade volume between Iran and Dubai may decline to about $46 billion in from $8 billion in 2009 and $12 billion in 2008. Over the past year, the number of Iranian-owned businesses in Dubai has fallen to 8000 from 8400.
United Arab Emirates (UAE)
The UAE is abiding by the UN resolutions, Sultan bin Nasser al-Suwaidi, the Gulf Arab state’s central bank governor, said. The UAE has begun enforcing UN sanctions on Iran and closed 40 international and local firms violating the sanctions. Those companies shipped contraband and banned dual-use goods to Iran. The central bank has also asked banks and financial institutions in the federation to freeze 41 accounts linked to Iran’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs. The bank said the move was made in compliance with UNSC Resolution 1929.
Overall trade relations between the UAE and Iran are estimated to have dropped in 2009 to $7 billion from about $10 billon. According to Morteza Masoumzadeh, vice president of the Iranian Business Council in Dubai, “the UAE is no longer Iran’s first trade partner as it has slipped to the third place.”
On August 14, 2009, the UAE seized a cargo of North Korean weapons on its way to Iran, which would have violated a UN embargo on arms exports from North Korea. UAE sees Iran as both a threat and a valued trading partner – it spends billions to defend itself against a perceived Iranian threat while it also enjoys a robust trading relationship with Iran.
Saudis have avoided getting on board publicly with the sanctions drive but they made efforts. Recently, Riyadh has sought to persuade leaders of India and China to help put pressure on Tehran. Saudis have repeatedly said they have a spare oil production capacity of four million barrels a day that could replace interrupted Iranian oil exports.
Riyadh has agreed to allow Israel to use a narrow corridor of its airspace in the north of the country to shorten the distance for a bombing run on Iran. “The Saudis have given their permission for the Israelis to pass over and they will look the other way,” said a US defense source.
On June 29, Saudi King Abdullah met with US President Barack Obama at the White House. Both leaders voiced “strong support” for international efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear weapons development program.
In May, Saudi and Kuwaiti officials confirmed that an Iranian espionage group was dismantled in Kuwait. The event highlighted Gulf concerns over Iran’s regional undercover actions. Tensions are rising between Iran and its Arab neighbors over Tehran’s growing regional influence.
In April, Iran announced an effort to boost trade volume with Bahrain to over $5 billion per year. “The current volume of trade exchanges remains below our ambitions and the extent of opportunities and potential available in both countries. We are keen to remove all obstacles impeding Bahraini businessmen in their relations with Iran,” Iranian First Deputy President’s assistant Dr. Ali Agha Mohammadi said.
Iran’s uranium enrichment has complicated relations between Iran and Bahrain. Bahrain, an ally of the United States, has supported using diplomatic means to resolve the conflict over Iran’s nuclear program.
In October 2007, Bahrain turned down financial and technical support that Iran offered to help Bahrain establish its own civilian nuclear energy program.
In June, Iranian Ambassador to Qatar, Abdullah Sohrabi, said that Iran has allotted land at Bushehr for a permanent Qatari trade center, which is expected to boost trade between Iran and Qatar.
Iran and Qatar are trying to expand their bilateral ties in the security, economic and political sector. Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani said that Iran’s right to nuclear technology should be respected.
Oman has accelerated its cooperation with Tehran, nurturing an alliance that helps empower Iran while highlighting the deep divisions among Arab capitals. Oman has refused overtures of its larger neighbors to pull away from Iran. Oman sees Iran as an important political and economic ally that is “too powerful and too potentially dangerous to ignore, let alone antagonize.” Oman has for years helped Iranian smugglers circumvent international trade sanctions.
Iran’s Nuclear Program/Nuclear arms race
As Iran moves ahead with its nuclear ambitions other countries in the Gulf are pushing forward with their own plans to go nuclear. Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have all indicated interest in developing nuclear programs.
Nowhere is the concern over Iran’s nuclear ambition felt more strongly than among Iran’s Arab neighbors in the Persian Gulf region. While they watch uneasily for signs of Iranian nuclear progress, Saudis and Emiratis will continue to spend billions of dollars on ballistic missile defense systems.
The Gulf States have ambivalent relations with Iran. While Iran is seen a strategic threat it is also a trading partner and possible Mideast regional leader. Statements and actions by Gulf leaders reflect this ambiguity.