Sun, Aug 31, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Rivals struggle over Islamic State issue

GULF GAPS:Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates said they needed to confront security issues, but tensions between the nations might hinder any deals


Gulf countries, while siding with Washington against Islamic State jihadists, are struggling to build a common front because of differences within their own ranks and with non-Arab Iran.

US President Barack Obama is sending US Secretary of State John Kerry to the Middle East to try to build strong regional support against Islamic State, formerly known as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which is rampaging through Iraq and Syria.

However, “we don’t have a strategy yet” to defeat the jihadists, Obama said on Thursday.

Saudi Minister of Foreign Affiars Prince Saud Al Faisal has over the past week been at the center of diplomatic efforts to stand up to the challenge posed by Islamic State to the political environment in the region.

Al Faisal and his counterparts from Egypt, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates held talks on Syria and “the rise of terrorist extremist ideology,” according to an official statement.

They agreed on “the need to seriously work to deal with these crises and challenges to preserve security and stability in Arab countries,” the statement said.

The Saudi minister also hosted talks with Iranian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian in a rare high-level encounter between the long-time rival states.

The two ministers discussed the situation in Iraq and “means to confront extremism and terrorism,” an Iranian official said, without elaborating on how Riyadh and Tehran could cooperate against the jihadists.

Al Faisal, accompanied by the kingdom’s interior minister and intelligence chief, traveled to Qatar at the start of a regional tour also taking in Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

Gulf powerhouse Saudi Arabia and its small but wealthy neighbor Qatar, which has its own regional ambitions, have been at odds for the past six months.

In an unprecedented step between nominal allies in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Manama withdrew their ambassadors from Doha in protest over alleged interference in their affairs because of support Qatar gave to the Muslim Brotherhood movement.

Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a professor of political sciences at Emirates University, said Qatar has been stepping up negotiations to resolve issues creating tension with its neighbors.

“Qatar is trying to do all what it can to please Riyadh, but Riyadh is still unsatisfied,” he said.

With the highest religious authority in Saudi Arabia, its grand mufti, branding the Islamic State as being Islam’s “enemy No. 1,” the Gulf council, which also includes Kuwait and Oman, planned a meeting of foreign ministers in the Saudi city of Jeddah for yesterday.

However, regional expert Frederic Wehrey holds out little hope of joint Arab military action against Islamic State.

“The GCC does not have the capacity for real expeditionary military operations outside the Gulf,” said Wehrey, a senior associate for Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“And continued mistrust, disputes over command authority and interoperability deficiencies amongst their militaries prevent them from deploying as a real military coalition,” Wehrey said.

He said he doubted that any Gulf air force “could provide any real firepower complement to US air strikes beyond providing the symbolic legitimacy of an Arab state participating.”

As for regional giants Iran and Saudi Arabia, their mutual hostility toward Islamic State was unlikely to evolve into “real meaningful cooperation,” Wehrey added.

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