Monday, December 11, 2006

The Manama Dialogue: Security Challenges in the Persian Gulf

Addressing the issue of security challenges in the Gulf region, Mohammed Al Abdallah Al Sabah, the Director of Citizen Services and Government Bodies Assessment Agency of Kuwait, spoke to the Manama Dialogue. The full text of his remarks can be read here. Mr. Al Sabah identified two major challenges to regional security:
The situation in Iraq, as known by all, is getting worse. Violence and terrorists’ acts are increasing. They are turning to be of sectarian nature and that would lead to a civil war affecting the other countries in the region. On the other hand, the debate among the US political officials concerning reviewing the US policy in Iraq, and the attempts made to find solutions and alternatives to leave Iraq in the current circumstances before it is time for such leaving is against the interest of the Iraqi people; there will be more violence and instability. Furthermore, militias and terrorists groups will seek for filling the security vacancy when the allied forces depart from Iraq before security is established there.
Therefore, as the United States is reviewing their policy in Iraq and thinking of finding solutions, the choice of the withdrawal from Iraq should not be one of the suggested choices. We would rather prefer to see more support for the national interests and the Iraqi government to accelerate efforts of development and reform. Such efforts will, as we in the whole region hope, result in the stability of Iraq.


Under the recent attempts of imposing sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran if they continue in their incomplete and non-transparent cooperation with the international community, matters are likely to worsen. As we emphasize that Iran has all the right to use nuclear technology for civilian peaceful purposes, we also emphasize that Iran has to deal with the International Atomic Energy Agency with transparency in order that the regional and international countries trust the Iranian nuclear intentions.

Therefore, we ask the Iranians to take actual steps for building confidence with the regional and the international countries through dealing transparently with the international community concerning their nuclear file.
Al Sabah also mentioned the Israel-Palestinian crisis and the situation in Lebanon, but the most attention was paid to the questions of Iraq and Iran.

It should certainly be unsurprising that Kuwait does not wish to see the US leave Iraq. Having suffered invasion at the hands of Saddam Hussein, Kuwait is very likely to be greatly affected by instability in Iraq, especially as sectarian violence poses the possibility of spilling out over Iraq's borders. The US shouldn't base its future plans of action in Iraq on the opinions of Iraq's neighbors, but at the same time, the US cannot implement a solution that ignores the larger regional dynamic and security situation. Troop withdrawal may be best for the US, but if it undermines the stability of the Gulf, it may not be possible. Countries such as Kuwait must be considered and consulted as the US develops a credible and functional exit strategy from Iraq.

However, most interesting is the plea for Iran to cooperate with international institutions to make its nuclear program more transparent. Again, being relatively weak, it is not surprising that Kuwait would balance regional powers such as Iran by siding with external actors. But again, the willingness of Persian Gulf countries to side with the international community can be sed to build credibility for the IAEA, the UN, and the possibility of sanctions. The EU and US should work with the other states in the Gulf to open a serious dialogue with Iran. Gulf states like Kuwait should, hopefully, have a better sense of what carrots and sticks might be capable of altering Iranian behavior.

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