Plans for historic GCC-Iran-Iraq dinner in New York collapse

Plans for historic GCC-Iran-Iraq dinner in New York collapse

Shafaq News/ Plans for a historic meeting in New York gathering the foreign ministers of Gulf Arab states, Iran and Iraq have collapsed at the last minute, reported on Saturday.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was set to chair the session on Sept. 23. But an escalating dispute between Iraq and Kuwait has put a stop to the endeavor, informed sources told the UK-based website. As the meeting is “unlikely” at this point, a senior political source in New York said, “worst-case scenarios are being prepared.”

Regional diplomacy

While the recent Iran-US prisoner swap has grabbed headlines, a meeting of chief diplomats from Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states, Iran and Iraq scheduled for this week had been expected to be a crowning achievement for regional engagement.

The Sept. 23 session was initially envisioned as a lunch, informed sources told, but was later confirmed as a dinner. Formal invitations were sent out to all eight participants earlier this month. A regional diplomatic source said the session was to be convened under UN Security Council Resolution 598, which calls for the establishment of Regional Dialogue Fora, with Secretary-General Guterres as chair.

The plans for the GCC-Iran-Iraq dinner in New York had been marred by three sets of issues, has learned.

Initially, the initiative was hit by apparent divisions on whether to proceed with it at this time. Diplomatic sources in the region underscored that Iran and Saudi Arabia—regional rivals which in March agreed to normalize ties after seven years of estrangement—backed the meeting. But some GCC member states were seemingly expressing doubts about the purpose and timing of the session, a diplomatic source in the region previously told

Part of the contention revolved around the different perceptions of what the meeting was about. In late August, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Baqeri-Kani said it would facilitate the “soft exit” of the US from the region, while highlighting that it would take place despite US “interference” geared to shape the agenda in line with American “interests.” But political insiders have portrayed a wholly different picture of regional dynamics.

One senior source previously told that Saudi Arabia and other GCC states are in fact asking Washington for more security assurances while welcoming the recent US deployment of more troops. Of note, as part of its talks with the Joe Biden administration on normalization with Israel, the Kingdom reportedly wants “NATO-level” security guarantees. Moreover, amid rising tension with Iran over the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) ship seizures, the Pentagon last month added 3,000 sailors and marines to the region.

While the internal GCC obstacle to the dinner was overcome, the recent flaring up of a dispute between Iraq and Kuwait over maritime boundaries seems to have collapsed the plans for the Sept. 23 dinner.

Iraq’s federal supreme court on Sept. 4 ruled that the Iraqi parliament’s 2013 ratification of a 2012 agreement on the shared Khor Abdullah waterway was “unconstitutional.” The ruling promptly sparked escalating contention between the two neighbors. At a Sept. 21 meeting in New York, Kuwait’s prime minister told his Iraqi counterpart that Baghdad must adopt “concrete, decisive, and urgent measures” to “address historical fallacies against Kuwait” in the court ruling. Kuwait has also been quick to seek support from its GCC and western allies. The sheikhdom’s foreign minister on Sept. 20 met with his Gulf Arab and US counterparts in New York, with the session resulting in a joint statement urging Iraq to “finalize the demarcation” of the maritime border with Kuwait.

Since the Iraqi court ruling followed an appeal lodged by a political affiliate of an Iran-backed armed group, some observers have linked the timing of events to Tehran’s ongoing dispute with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia over an offshore gas field.

Last year, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia signed a breakthrough deal to develop their portion of the Arash/Dorra field, which is located in the neutral zone between the two Gulf Arab states. Iran reacted to the announcement of the Kuwaiti-Saudi agreement by questioning its legality. Tehran also noted that parts of the field extend into waters between Kuwait and Iran “whose boundaries have not been defined.” Tensions further escalated in July after Saudi sources asserted that the Kingdom and Kuwait would act as “a single negotiating party” in dealings with the Islamic Republic. The contention over Arash/Dorra highlights how GCC-Iran contentions remain despite the widening détente over the past year.

Beyond the Iraq-Kuwait dispute, the plans for the Sept. 23 dinner are also said to have been marred by scheduling issues, with at least one foreign minister unable to attend the gathering due to prior plans. 

A meeting of regional foreign ministers in New York would have been a diplomatic victory for Iran, which has long sought the establishment of Regional Dialogue Fora under UN Security Council Resolution 598.

The Ebrahim Raisi administration has over the past years hailed what is characterized as a US failure to isolate the Islamic Republic, pointing to Iran’s accession to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), rapprochement with Saudi Arabia, and recent invitation to join the BRICS group of countries.

However, while a regional ministerial meeting in New York would have been a major step forward, the fundamental question is what may follow such a session. The Iranian rapprochement with Saudi Arabia may be advancing, but it is doing so far behind schedule. Meanwhile, Saudi sources have previously said that no “exemptions” from US sanctions will be sought, indicating that the economic dividends associated with the rapprochement are unlikely without a Iran-US détente. As such, much of the Arab-Iranian engagement remains beholden to external factors.

With the plans for the Sept. 23 dinner having fallen through, Iran and Arab states that are willing to meet in a multilateral setting are faced with several options. They could delay a ministerial meeting until a more appropriate time, or proceed down the line in a different format—possibly at a lower level, with fewer participants and potentially outside the UN umbrella.

One key question in the latter scenario would pertain to the hosting, especially if the dialogue is to be held within the region. The trend in recent years clearly indicates a strong preference to “localize” regional dialogue, with the Baghdad Conference on track to become a regular occurrence, while other more established international gatherings such as the Manama Dialogue and the Doha Forum have also made a name for themselves. In this context, Oman and Qatar are the obvious options for possible hosts.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, one political source in the region previously hinted to that a meeting of a smaller group may in fact be preferable given the higher chances of consent among the participants. Another senior source posited that the first meeting of Arab and Iranian top diplomats—whether among all eight foreign ministers or in a more limited format—should involve “the preparation of a statement that includes generalities that are not controversial.” But there will nonetheless need to be an understanding to eventually tackle issues that are prioritized by all sides. If the Iraq-Kuwait and Iran-Kuwait-Saudi disputes are any indication, maritime boundaries may be in need of renewed attention."

(Amwaj Media)

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