The Obama administration faces many severe challenges in the Middle East, ranging from preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon to brokering peace between Israelis and Palestinians. But President Barack Obama’s trip to the region last week was partly aimed at addressing a lower-profile problem—the emerging fissures in the traditional partnership between the U.S. and the six nations of the Saudi Arabia-led Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
“Bilateral U.S. relationships with the GCC states are strong,” explains Stephen McInerney of the Project on Middle East Democracy in a phone interview, but there are “tensions and suspicions” relating to foreign policy on both sides. The most significant divergence relates to current U.S. diplomacy toward Iran, which GCC states fear may strengthen Iran economically in the short term without permanently eliminating the prospect that Tehran may acquire nuclear weapons.
The Gulf states favor a “tougher, more belligerent approach” toward Iran, McInerney explains, including increased sanctions and the continued isolation of the country.