By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
28 July 2015
The US administration’s deal with Iran regarding its nuclear program, which ends sanctions and paves way for openness with Iran, was viewed by some as a mean move by Washington against its old allies who were loyal for over five decades, while others considered that the deal requires a reconsideration of relations with Washington.
The relationship between Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf countries with the US is not an ordinary one and is a prime example of what diplomacy can achieve in our region. Those who don’t know what it has achieved do not value it and do not have a deep understanding of politics. Relations are usually established within the context of mutual interests and based on the respect of charters, and they must not be viewed on the basis of mythical conspiracy theories nor endowed with more interpretation than can be tolerated or supported in terms of prior commitments. Relations are thus based on mutual interests and on respecting agreements, including non-written ones. The relationship with Washington is not based on nationalistic, religious or emotional ties. Its pillars are oil, commerce and political consensus over several issues, though not all affairs. There are differences between the two parties, the Gulf countries and Washington, and those differences will continue to exist. This relationship is not akin to that between Washington and Britain though it is still more solid than that of the US with some other Arab and Islamic countries.
The Americans have found Arab Gulf countries to be stable and respectful of their agreements, unlike others like Libya and Iran which are unsettled and hostile. They’ve agreed with the Arab Gulf states on most affairs and there’s a long list of examples of such occasions. Even when the Saudis disagreed with them over strategic issues, like ending the authority of American companies over the oil company Aramco, the dispute was resolved in a friendly manner that suited both parties. This is unlike the case with Iranian, Libyan and Iraqi oil-related affairs which remained controversial for decades due to the mismanagement of the dispute.
If we put the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Washington within context, formulated by leaders King Abdulaziz Al-Saud and Dwight Eisenhower in 1945 aboard cruiser Quincy, we’d realize its benefits in regards to all the crises we’ve faced since then. The relationship with Washington notably dates back to WW-I. However, at that time, the Americans refrained from getting involved in political and military endeavours outside their continent and left the arena open for European powers. Gulf countries, in cooperation with the US, overcame dangerous ordeals since the 1950’s, confronting the Nasserite tide in the 1960’s, the Iraqi Baathists and the southern Yemeni communists in the 1970’s, the Iranian developments in the 1980’s and the Iraqi invasion in the 1990’s, and they have also addressed Iranian threats since 2000. Without major alliances, it’s difficult for countries to overcome such threats, which were also linked to major international alliances during the Cold War. It’s no coincidence that countries which are still standing on their feet actually have similar policies and alliances — this includes Gulf countries, Jordan and Morocco. The economic situation is similar to the political one.
It’s no coincidence that Gulf countries produce 15 million barrels of oil per day while Iran has been incapable of producing more than three million barrels a day despite all its attempts and the help it received from the Russians and Chinese for the last 30 years. Iran failed because the US refused to grant it the technology and expertise to develop its production, and it failed even though Iranian topography is similar to its Gulf neighbours. Iran owns the second largest oil reserve in the Middle East, right after Saudi Arabia. Iraq comes in third, some even say first, but due to its struggles with the West and its alliances in the region, it has failed to develop a domestic oil industry.
This is the result of political relations and not of specific business deals.
Of course, there have always been disagreements between the two parties (the Gulf and Washington) in regards to several cases, most notably Palestine. Palestine was highly problematic but it was not allowed to sabotage the entire relation because the Arab Gulf states were aware that Arabs who allied themselves with the Soviet Union did not achieve any gains, rights or victories nor retrieve any land for the Palestinian people. There were other disputes but most of them were temporary. For example, there was an occasion when Saudi Arabia refused to grant Washington the right to use its territory to attack Afghanistan in 2001, while Iran accepted. At the same time, Saudi Arabia provided the Americans with information in their hunt for Al-Qaeda over the past decade.
Now, there is a dispute between the Gulf countries and the US, in regards to the western agreement with Iran. This represents the worst disagreement in the history of both sides. However, it will most likely not lead to the rupture or alteration of alliances, at least this is what I think. Those who wrote articles gloating about what happened or condemning the relationship altogether do not see beyond this crisis which will certainly require huge diplomatic efforts to be fixed. This is not the first time the US government has taken decisions in the region which contradict Riyadh’s opinion, however, this is normal considering each country has its own interests.