Al Jazeera Centre for Studies and the Strategic Council on Foreign Relations in Iran organised a conference titled, "Approaches and Solutions to Security, Economy, and Crises," which took place from 27 to 29 May 2023. The conference marked the second round of the Arab-Iranian Dialogue, following the initial one held in May 2022.
Diverse participants, including researchers, politicians and experts from Arab and Iranian backgrounds, engaged in the conference. Throughout eight sessions, they deliberated on several topics, such as Gulf security, economic cooperation and the Iranian nuclear issue. They shared their perspectives on the challenges faced by specific countries, including Iraq, Yemen, Palestine, Syria and Lebanon, as well as their respective approaches to addressing these challenges.
This report focuses on the key points conveyed during the opening session by the keynote speakers. The speakers were: Dr. Mohammed bin Abdulaziz Al Khulaifi, the Minister of State at the Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Dr. Adel Abdul Mahdi, the Former Prime Minister of Iraq; Dr. Kamal Kharrazi, Head of the Strategic Council on Foreign Relations and former Foreign Minister of Iran; and Dr. Abdulaziz Al-Uwaishiq, the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs and Negotiations at the Gulf Cooperation Council. The session was expertly moderated by Al Jazeera presenter Zein Elabidin Tawfiq.
Dr. Mohammed Mukhtar Al-Khalil, the Director of Al Jazeera Centre for Studies, inaugurated the conference. He elucidated that the conference's aim was for "Arabs and Iranians to hear each other directly, rather than hear about each other from others," and for them to "personally manage the dialogue instead of delegating it to others." Al-Khalil stressed that this purpose aligns with Al Jazeera's role as a platform for diverse viewpoints and serves as a catalyst for "reconciliation, understanding and dialogue". He further explained that, in the realm of political geography, we do not choose our neighbours, but we can choose to cultivate positive relationships with them.
Al-Khalil emphasised that differences, regardless of their nature, can be resolved through dialogue. He stated, "We have received encouragement from all parties involved in organising this round of the Arab-Iranian dialogue, which demonstrates the collective recognition of the dialogue's significance." As evidence, he cited the presence of Dr. Abdulaziz Al-Uwaishiq, the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs and Negotiations at the Gulf Cooperation Council.
The aggravation of crises due to lack of dialogue
Dr. Mohammed bin Abdulaziz Al Khulaifi, the Minister of State at the Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs, began his speech by acknowledging the intricate and interconnected crises facing the region. He attributed these crises to a historical dearth of understanding, coordination and dialogue, resulting in the escalation of conflicts, foreign intervention and the hindrance of development in critical areas that the region's peoples aspired for. Al Khulaifi also highlighted how the absence of dialogue with Iran contributed to worsening the political, economic and environmental crises affecting the region.
Al Khulaifi underscored the importance of seizing the current opportunity to engage in constructive dialogue and alleviate tensions among Gulf countries. He asserted, "The optimal utilisation of this moment lies in working towards the best interests of our peoples and the strategic interests of the region, by creating constructive mechanisms for dialogue based on the principles of mutual respect, good neighbourliness, non-interference in internal affairs, peaceful resolution of conflicts, and consideration of the legitimate concerns of the relevant parties."
Furthermore, Al Khulaifi referenced Qatar's consistent calls, including on international platforms such as the United Nations, for comprehensive and peaceful dialogue between Iran and the Arab countries in the Gulf to address all security and stability-related matters. He attributed these calls to Qatar's belief in the unity of shared destinies and its commitment to realising the hopes and aspirations of the region's people for development and prosperity.
Al Khulaifi reaffirmed that "Qatar has consistently advocated for diplomacy and dialogue as the ideal means for resolving disputes between nations. It has become an internationally-recognised mediator due to its successful efforts in bridging divergent perspectives and providing a reliable platform for all parties involved, while adhering to international law and the principles of the United Nations Charter."
Moreover, Al Khulaifi highlighted Qatar's endeavours with relevant international parties involved in the negotiations of the Iranian nuclear agreement, including the United States and the European Union, as well as the Islamic Republic of Iran. He clarified that these ongoing and commendable efforts have significantly contributed to narrowing the gap between perspectives and have had a positive impact on international security and peace.
Additionally, Al Khulaifi stressed Qatar's belief that expanding cooperation, particularly in economic and cultural domains, based on the commonalities and shared destiny between Iranians and Arabs, necessitates the continuation of peaceful and constructive dialogue to foster broader areas of collaboration.
In conclusion, Al Khulaifi expressed hope that the opportunity for exchanging perspectives on the various issues addressed in the Arab-Iranian Dialogue's agenda would foster enhanced shared visions and offer practical solutions to the crises witnessed in the region.
Integration as a means to enhance strength
Former Iraqi Prime Minister Dr. Adel Abdul Mahdi began his speech by stating, "Arab-Iranian relations are not an option but a necessity and a reality that increasingly imposes itself." He explained that when disputes arise between the two sides, everyone suffers; and when bonds are restored and unity is achieved, the opposite occurs. He continued, saying, "Long history shows the interconnection of the interests, concerns and destinies of Arabs and Iranians. This has deep roots, foundations and principles that still exist despite the cracks it has experienced and the external forces that continue to hinder it and undermine its effectiveness."
Abdul Mahdi expressed, "Disputes and conflicts [were common] between neighbouring peoples. However, with the spread of Islam, common values and beliefs unified, and economic interests and ties became intertwined. They began to move from one [area] to another and from one generation to another." He added that both peoples, Arab and Iranian, have presented to the world the greatest civilisations, the most open to and accepting of the other. He mentioned that the foundations of this relationship are still in place, waiting to be dusted off.
Abdul Mahdi added that the region has been subject to geopolitical arrangements that "serve the interests of the colonisers," and that the existing nation-state was built on fragmentation, nationalism and hostilities "nurtured and fuelled by hegemonic powers, turning neighbours and historical companions into its adversaries."
He also said, "Over the course of more than two centuries, history has been read with new eyes; and new narratives have emerged that highlight differences and overlook commonalities, obscuring them from consciousness and presence. Gradually, perspectives that shape an understanding and perception that diverges from the underlying foundations, structures, facts, scenes and connections have taken hold. These perspectives foster animosity, and spread hatred and enmity among the members of one nation, who then resort to foreigners for protection and as arbitrators and rulers among us."
Abdul Mahdi noted that whenever the hand of intervention and colonisation grows stronger, the Arabs and Iranians weaken, and their relations deteriorate, going in circles without any significant results. He argued, "Our hope is threatened, our economy has been plundered, our sovereignty is lost, and the conflicts among us are never-ending. Our values and beliefs are infiltrated and endangered." However, he expounded, whenever the hand of colonisation weakens, relations are strengthened, not only between Iranians and Arabs but also with other the peoples of the region, and not only between Sunnis and Shias but also between other religions, beliefs and sects.
Furthermore, Abdul Mahdi addressed the topic of security and pointed out in his speech that Arabs and Iranians have two options: “either to [hold on to] the narratives of the past two centuries that fuel conflicts and animosity and make the foreigner our reference, or to recall the great truths that we can still enjoy if our voices unite and we capitalise on the long history of intertwined and deeply rooted interests and relations that can outweigh the negatives of small and temporary problems and conflicts."
He emphasised the necessity of looking towards the future, “which clearly promises the rise of new powers and the decline of the current powers’ hegemony.” This, he said, will “protect [us] against those who seek to attack us.”
Abdul Mahdi called on the Arabs and Iranians to reach a consensus "on a shared security model that ensures our security and stability, and repels any aggression against us. It should lead us towards the liberation of Palestine from occupation, settlements and apartheid; the establishment of a Palestinian state on the entire territory of Palestine; and the return of refugees and displaced persons to their homes and the restoration of their properties and rights, where everyone coexists under a just system."
The former prime minister pointed out a set of indicators that he said indicate "the weakening of the grip of hegemonic powers in the region." He mentioned U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the collapse of the American project in Iraq, the intensification of resistance in Palestine, the Lebanese resistance’s liberation of its territories, the GCC overcoming the crisis that occurred between some of its countries and Qatar, the successful hosting of the World Cup in Qatar despite efforts to sabotage it, the historic reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the cessation of the war in Yemen as a prelude to sustainable political solutions, the positive progress in the Syrian portfolio, and so on.
Abdul Mahdi stressed the necessity for Arabs and Iranians to be prepared for war and arm themselves with knowledge and expertise, and to acquire technology. "This is not for the purpose of war, but to protect security and peace, because the world does not operate based on good intentions but on the strength of deterrence that prevents others from encroaching on the rights of the nation." He added that it is "naive to believe that the colonial powers, which supported Jewish migration to Palestine and divided and colonised our countries, will extend a helping hand to us." He also said, "This will not be realised unless we possess sources of power, and become a force that imposes itself and puts an end to manipulation of its destiny."
He used Gaza as an example, reasoning that "with an area not exceeding 350 square kilometres and a population of nearly two million, under siege and lacking resources, Gaza has managed to liberate itself and render the occupying army powerless. It has done what it can to protect Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied areas." He then asked, "If Gaza, in its difficult circumstances, can achieve that, then why can't the Arab countries and Iran, with an area of over 15 million square kilometres and a population of approximately 500 million, utilise their tremendous capabilities to defend the holy sites and restrain the enemy?"
In the same context, Abdul Mahdi referred to the Lebanese resistance and its role in "achieving the deterrence factor with Israel and stopping Israel’s aggression against Lebanon." He contended that "the results achieved by the resistance are great despite the immense sacrifices. The path of compromise and appeasement, however, carries a much greater cost. Its tragedies, pains and frustrations are unbearable; and its outcome is surrender to the enemy."
Touching on the Iranian nuclear project, Abdul Mahdi stated, "Iran has defended its peaceful nuclear programme despite pressures and threats. In 2015, it had successfully reached an agreement after immense efforts. However, the United States withdrew from the agreement with the arrival of President Donald Trump. Iran continued with its project and did not succumb to threats and blackmail. If it had not done so, the nuclear programme’s fate would have been similar to that of the Iraqi Osirak reactor, the Syrian reactor and others." He clarified that "the Israeli state has not signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, yet it possesses nuclear facilities and bombs with the protection and sponsorship of the international system."
Abdul Mahdi emphasised that there is no alternative to attaining peace in the region, and focusing on reconstruction, development and serving the people while safeguarding against any aggression, except through the establishment of a shared security system that ensures the coordination of national security systems with it, or that is regarded as the ultimate authority that other systems either adhere to or avoid conflicting with. He added that the fundamental condition for the success of this approach is to establish trust between the Arab states and Iran, and for each party to be reassured by the other. "This requires interdependence of interests where any harm to one party harms the other, and any benefit to one party corresponds benefits the other." He also emphasised the necessity of motivating commonalities and making them the foundation of relationships, stating, "Let us initiate with the commonalities and defer the disputes, as they can be resolved more effectively once the commonalities bear fruit."
He continued, "It is not required for each of us to have formidable armies or nuclear programmes. What is needed is integration, whether in the security domain or in the political, diplomatic, legal, human rights and other domains." In this context, he said, "Some of us may consider -at a later stage- establishing a court or body for resolution and arbitration in order to settle disputes and avoid interference in each other's affairs, while respecting the interests and rights of everyone. This body would be one whose decisions we pledge to constitutionally respect provided that its establishment considers the requirements and conditions that ensure confidence in its functioning. Such a path has become feasible due to the growing realisation that no one can achieve their objectives in isolation. External protections will not benefit any of us, as the hegemonic system is in decline and will continue to disintegrate. The world will be characterised by multiple poles, and we therefore must assume our position as a strong, peaceful and influential pole capable of self-protection, competition with other poles, and integration with other nations and entities."
To illustrate, Abdul Mahdi gave an example: "In Iraq, neither armoured armies nor the presence of 170,000 multinational forces have been effective in combating terrorism. Over the course of 14 years, suicide bombings, car bombs, mass killings, occupation and foreign interventions have persisted. In fact, an American university estimated the number of victims who lost their lives due to terrorism during the period from 2003 to 2021 to be between 186,000 and 209,000."
He remarked that the Islamic State (IS) had reached the gates of Baghdad, and that if it were not for the "defensive jihad fatwa issued by the highest religious authority," the security situation would have deteriorated even further. “After the defeat of [IS] in 2017,” he said, “the paths of security and stability were strengthened, as evidenced by the 25th Gulf Cup tournament and other events.”
The fundamental element in this development, he pointed out, is the national unity and the defence provided by the Popular Mobilisation Forces, tribal forces and their internal and external supporters. They fulfilled requirements that the armed forces were incapable of achieving alone, and provided the correct security equation to combat terrorism and ensure the security in which Iraq thrives today.
Abdul Mahdi then addressed cross-border issues such as security, energy, environment and climate change. He underlined that these issues require cooperation between Arab countries and Iran to effectively manage economic, political and social matters. He stated, “The Arabs and Iran possess significant resources, including energy, minerals, international corridors and geopolitical realities that place them at the forefront if they stand together.”
He revealed that the Arab countries and Iran represent 15% of the world's population and approximately 10% of the land area. According to the International Monetary Fund’s estimates for 2023, the combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the Arab countries and Iran is $11.5 trillion, equivalent to 6.3% of the global total. When adding Turkey's GDP, the total becomes more than 8% of the global total.
Also, he pointed out that Europe relies on Arab countries and Iran for less than 20% of its oil supplies, while China gets 40% of its energy needs from them. During the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 75% of crude oil and oil derivatives passed through the Strait of Hormuz to Asia. The United States imported only 1.4 million barrels per day through the Strait of Hormuz at that time. This is an example of the world's shifting gravity towards Asia, Africa and the Third World, as evidenced by indicators of foreign trade, international trade, foreign reserves, research, universities and growth rates. This reinforces Arab-Iranian rapprochement and the opportunities for joint cooperation between them.
Finally, Abdul Mahdi concluded his speech by stating, "We face a number of problems that must be addressed. First, the philosophical backgrounds of our countries differ radically in many important matters, which requires consideration. Secondly, our external relations are diverse. Who some consider a friend, others consider an enemy, which also requires attention. Thirdly, the direct and strategic objectives and priorities differ from one country to another, which requires the establishment of mechanisms and perspectives to organise positions.” Consequently, he stated, "We need to strengthen the steps of success to progress further and build a strong, unified, integrated economic, security, intellectual and moral space for our people and leaders. It must be able to be a strong partner in the new international order. We need to change our course to be initiators and actors, rather than recipients and followers. This is the most effective way for us to occupy our rightful place among nations.”
Regional cooperation achieves security and prosperity
Dr. Kamal Kharrazi, Head of the Strategic Council on Foreign Relations and former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iran, began his speech expressing his hope for the conference to foster mutual understanding between Iranians and Arabs, particularly in the areas of security and economy. He emphasised Iran's high regard for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a major country in the Islamic world that encompasses the holy sites. Kharrazi stated, "Iran and Saudi Arabia cannot disregard one another. It is crucial for them to complement each other's capabilities as key powers to establish peace and stability in the region." Furthermore, he expressed satisfaction with the progress of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia towards normalisation, a decision made by the leaders of both nations, and indicated that the reopening of embassies in Tehran and Riyadh would soon take place. Kharrazi explained that the recent appointments of ambassadors from the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait to Iran were part of the broader effort to enhance relations and noted the ongoing positive and advancing trajectory of Iran's relations with Qatar, Oman and Iraq.
Kharrazi remarked, "It is worth noting that Iraq and Oman played constructive roles in the restoration of Iranian-Saudi relations, while Qatar and Oman played prominent roles in the nuclear agreement negotiations and discussions with the United States regarding the lifting of sanctions on Iranian assets and prisoner exchanges."
He further clarified that the visit of the Sultan of Oman to Tehran on 28 May 2023 "demonstrates the growing relations between Iran and the Gulf countries."
Kharrazi then discussed the geopolitical and geostrategic environment in the Middle East. He mentioned various factors that have contributed to shaping this environment, prompting Arab and Iranian leaders to address them. As a result, Saudi Arabia and Iran have drawn closer, Syria has re-joined the Arab League, and Arab-Iraqi relations have improved, and so on.
Regarding these developments, he stated, "U.S. intervention in the Middle East under the pretext of promoting democracy during the Obama era; the proliferation of religious extremism; the emergence of [IS] in Iraq and Syria; the prolonged and devastating wars in Syria and Yemen; the shift in America's geostrategic priorities from the Middle East to the Far East; China's endeavours to fill the resulting vacuum through the Belt and Road Initiative and enhance its economic relations with regional countries; the failure of U.S. policy to exert 'maximum pressure' on Iran; the impact of the Ukraine conflict on the region, including Russia's expanding economic ties with Gulf countries; the establishment of new transportation routes between the south and the north; the increasing strength of Palestinian fighters and Hezbollah encircling Israel, leading to heightened instability, insecurity and discontent within Israel; and the rise in reverse migration [among other things] all compelled the Israeli entity to pursue the normalisation of relations with Arab countries to overcome internal challenges and external blockades imposed by the resistance forces. In light of these developments, regional leaders have demonstrated their astuteness by adopting an independent policy based on a multipolar equilibrium that aligns with their national interests. This has been evident in their economic relations with China and Russia; the resolution of conflicts and the restoration of relations to their natural trajectory; the return of ambassadors; and the development of economic ties with other countries in the region, including Iran, Iraq and Syria."
Kharrazi concluded that these developments "reflect the maturity and astuteness of the countries of the region in leveraging international developments for the benefit of their nations, and that the time has come to contemplate broader horizons for the region."
He explained that the economic and security crises in Europe and America resulting from the war in Ukraine; the emergence of new technologies; China's expanded role; and the achievements of the Islamic Republic in developing military, civilian and modern technologies, including peaceful nuclear energy, have set the international system on a trajectory of intricate transformations. The world, he believes, is presently transitioning into a new system, though it remains impossible to render a definitive judgment on the characteristics of this system. However, he held that regional blocs will hold a distinctive position in the new global order and that they will be among the players and participants in it based on the unity, strength and independence they demonstrate.
"What we need today, based on the aforementioned, is the emergence of a powerful region comprising strong actors, where our security and economy rely not only on the strength of each individual country but also on the collective strength of the entire region," he said. "We can establish collective security and achieve growth and development through collaborative efforts aimed at reducing tension, promoting cooperation instead of competition, fostering trust instead of fear and doubt, and resolving disputes through dialogue and communication." The bottom line, Kharrazi argued, is that "we need regional cooperation to ensure security, prosperity and progress for the entire region, as well as to actively shape and influence the international arena and establish our region's position on the global stage." He highlighted that the first step in this direction, "which has fortunately commenced," is the resolution of conflicts through dialogue. He explained that differences are natural and can even be transformed into opportunities if managed appropriately. He stated that the countries of the region possess God-given wealth and share numerous commonalities, including religious, cultural, historical and environmental aspects. Despite variations in terms of government types, concerns, challenges, priorities and strategies, they can take actions aligned with their collective interests. This necessitates fraternal and candid dialogue, cooperation in the economic, scientific and cultural domains, and the pursuit of moderation and tolerance. "A decision should be made to establish a collective security mechanism for this region without the presence of [foreign powers]," as security and development are interrelated concepts that cannot be separated.
Kharrazi added, "Fortunately, the Secretary-General of the United Nations has initiated efforts in this area based on paragraph 8 of Resolution 598 issued by the United Nations Security Council. Iran had previously announced its willingness to participate in a regional security mechanism without the presence of foreign powers through the submission of the Hormuz Peace Plan."
Kharrazi discussed Iran's concept of security in the Gulf in his speech, stating, "Iran views the security of the Gulf and each of its states as its own security. It is committed to ensuring the security and stability of the region, including maritime routes. Iran's opposition to the presence of foreign forces, especially the United States and the Zionist entity, is due to the fact that it, contrary to some beliefs, is the cause of instability in the region."
He then asked, "Has the costly presence of the United States in the region during the past decades and its establishment of numerous military bases led to stability or, on the contrary, increased tensions and even led to war?" Commenting on his question, he said, "History is good evidence of that."
Kharrazi warned of the repercussions of what he referred to as the existence of the Israeli apartheid entity in the Gulf region, stating, "I caution all interested and sympathetic parties in the region that the presence of the Israeli apartheid entity in the Gulf region will not bring security at all but will create a dangerous future for it."
Kharrazi then moved on to the Yemeni crisis and welcomed its recent developments, saying, "We are pleased that, instead of resorting to military force, the path of dialogue has been chosen to solve the problems in Yemen. This has had positive results, such as prisoner exchanges and the sending of humanitarian aid. Ending the blockade and forming a Yemeni government based on the will of the Yemeni people has been the position of the Islamic Republic of Iran since the beginning of the war. I believe that the countries in the region should strive to achieve these goals and ensure sustainable peace in Yemen."
Kharrazi also touched on the situation in Syria, stating, "Iran is optimistic about Syria's return to the Arab world. Syria has always been an important country in the West Asian region. The recent political relations between Syria and Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia, are a step in the right direction. Iran hopes that this step will lead to economic cooperation for the reconstruction of the damage caused by the war in that country."
Regarding the Turkish-Syrian talks, Kharrazi said, "Iran welcomes the recent talks between Syria and Turkey, mediated by Iranian-Russian cooperation. Preserving the unity and political sovereignty of Syrian territory is of utmost importance. I hope that this can be achieved through the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Syrian territory."
On Palestine, Kharrazi said, "Palestine, the beating heart of the Islamic world, remains our foremost concern. The struggle of Palestinian youth against the occupiers in the West Bank is evolving and expanding. The horrific massacres committed by the Zionist army, which spare neither women nor children, and the recent killing of civilians in Gaza will not weaken the unity of the resistance or deter Palestinian fighters. Attacks on the homes of innocent Palestinian people reflect the weakness and recklessness of the racist entity and its inability to confront the Palestinian youth."
Regarding the efforts for the recent ceasefire in Gaza, Kharrazi said, "The commendable efforts of some countries in the region to implement the ceasefire deserve praise. However, resistance is the only way to confront the crimes of the racist Israeli entity and defend the rights of Palestinians."
When asked about his vision for a final solution to the Palestinian issue, Kharrazi said, "From our perspective, this solution must align with values based on people's sovereignty by establishing a unified political system through a general referendum for all original Palestinian inhabitants, including Palestinian refugees, whether Muslims, Christians or Jews." Kharrazi added, "Interestingly, according to a survey conducted by the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies in 2022-2023, 46% of Israelis prefer a democratic government with equal political rights for everyone, while 35% prefer a government with a Jewish majority."
To close, Kharrazi expressed his gratitude to Al Jazeera Centre for Studies for organising the conference and to the Qatari government for its interest in developing political and cultural relations with Iran. "I hope that the discussions of the conference will lead to a proper understanding of the issues and challenges between Iran and the Arab world and yield fruitful results in the form of meaningful ideas that contribute to the creation of a strong region," he said.
The references of Iranian-Arab talks
Dr. Abdulaziz Al-Uwaishiq, the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs and Negotiations at the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), began his speech by referring to the 18th session of the GCC, which was hosted in Doha in December 2007. He mentioned the participation of former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and stated that Ahmadinejad presented important proposals regarding security, economy, culture and communication among peoples, including the establishment of a security and economic system for the region. He also highlighted the impactful image of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia, entering the hall holding hands with Ahmadinejad and surrounded by the leaders of the GCC countries. "I believe that the region is on the verge of a similar opportunity; and hopefully, we can make better use of it this time than we did before," he said.
Al-Uwaishiq also mentioned the timing of the Arab-Iranian dialogue conference, expressing his felicitations on the organisers' favourable timing. He noted that the conference took place after the Arab Summit in Jeddah on 16 May 2023, in which the vision regarding Arab-Iranian relations became clearer. He also mentioned the two meetings held in Beijing between the Kingdom and the Islamic Republic on 10 March and 6 April 2023, and expressed optimism that the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries would lead to a broader breakthrough in the region. This sentiment was also expressed by the three countries that participated in this significant diplomatic breakthrough.
Al-Uwaishiq added that Saudi Arabia's hosting of the Arab Summit this year represents a good opportunity to implement the vision that came into view through the Beijing agreements. He stated, "The Arab and Iranian peoples on the shores of the Gulf aspire to security, peace and stability in the Gulf and the Arab region as a whole, and for relations with Iran to restore their vitality and the cultural and human depth that they had known throughout a long shared history."
However, Al-Uwaishiq pointed out that there are "extremely important" issues to be addressed. "This is natural, but there are economic and strategic interests, historical ties and shared cultural and social aspects between us that require efforts to resolve differences," he declared. "We may not be able to resolve all of them, so let us agree to manage our disagreements through political and diplomatic means in accordance with international standards and norms recognised in inter-state relations."
Al-Uwaishiq then delved into the security of the Gulf region, contending that it is an integral part of Arab national security, as asserted by the recent Arab Summit in Jeddah. He also contended that the security of all Arab countries is indivisible and that "the security of the Gulf is an international demand." He attributed this to the Gulf states' role in facilitating global trade routes between East and West and their abundant energy resources, which are needed by the entire world. This includes the security of maritime passages in the Gulf and the Red Sea, which the international community pays special attention to. "The GCC countries, through their international partnerships, work to secure navigation routes, combat piracy, arms smuggling, drug trafficking and organised crime. This is a Gulf-Arab international duty."
Al-Uwaishiq indicated that countries in the region, such as the GCC states, Iraq and Iran, can play a larger role in international trade if they work collectively and make better use of this unique position. "Instead of squandering our economic resources on regional conflicts and nuclear, missile and conventional arms races, the GCC countries prefer to enhance the well-being of their citizens and achieve comprehensive economic, social, and human development, as well as necessary economic diversification for sustainability."
Al-Uwaishiq revealed that in 2022, the GDP of the GCC countries exceeded two trillion dollars for the first time in its history, making the economy of the GCC countries rank eighth globally. "The GCC region has been one of the fastest-growing regions in the world, and we expect these healthy growth rates to continue in the coming years and even surpass them if security, stability, and understanding are established in the region," he said. "This is the goal of today's meeting."
Al-Uwaishiq expanded, citing that in 1981, the year the GCC was established, "the gross domestic product (GDP) of the six countries in that year was $280 billion. It is expected to reach $2.1 trillion this year, which means it has multiplied about eight times in the past forty years or an average annual growth rate of 18%, which is an unprecedented rate of increase." He attributed this rapid growth to the stability and integration of the GCC countries, the opening of their markets, the liberalisation of their investment environment, and the mutual support among them."
Relatedly, Al-Uwaishiq brought up Qatar as an example of the economic progress he had mentioned, saying, "The size of Qatar's economy was around 9 billion dollars in 1981, and it is expected to become about 220 billion dollars by the end of 2023, multiplying 24 times. Therefore, the Qatari economy today is one of the fastest-growing economies in the region."
Al-Uwaishiq continued, "In addition to economic growth, both in Qatar and in the rest of the GCC countries, social development indicators have surpassed global averages, especially in education, health and social services. Their universities and research institutes have become among the best educational institutions in the world. They have achieved many sustainable development goals ahead of the deadlines set by the United Nations."
On Iran, Al-Uwaishiq said, "Iran has many factors that enable it to achieve similar results. It possesses abundant natural resources, promising youth, scientists and researchers, which enables it to achieve real economic growth through integration with its neighbours. However, this requires rebuilding trust and addressing the obstacles that hinder progress."
In that vein, Al-Uwaishiq also discussed President Ahmadinejad's participation in the Arab Summit in 2007, saying, "After his participation, the General Secretariat of the GCC was tasked with following up with the Iranian side to take practical steps to activate the shared aspiration announced by the leaders at that summit. Specific recommendations were made, including the initiation of negotiations to establish a free trade area between the two sides. However, the negotiations stalled after Iran became preoccupied with the 2009 elections and subsequent events, as well as the Arab Spring, during which Iran and the GCC countries took diverging positions."
Notably, Al-Uwaishiq revealed that there was a methodological reason as well behind the suspension of those negotiations and previous attempts: "the lack of agreement on the references on which the discussions were built, as well as the failure to reach an agreement on the mechanism for conducting the negotiations and the gradual progression of discussing topics."
Al-Uwaishiq broached a series of correspondences that took place between former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and the leaders of GCC countries. He explained that in 2016, following the signing of the nuclear agreement, there was an initiative from Rouhani to start a new chapter in relations. He sent a letter to the leaders of the GCC countries through Kuwait, and the GCC welcomed the initiative. There was also an exchange of communication during 2017 and 2018, also facilitated by Kuwait. In order to ensure the success of this new attempt, the GCC was keen on establishing the foundations on which the new discussions would be based. These included a commitment to the principles governing relations between countries, such as good neighbourliness, respect for national sovereignty, political independence, territorial integrity, non-interference in internal affairs, rejecting terrorism, extremism, and sectarianism, and avoiding the involvement of sectarian disputes in political conflicts. The Iranian side was informed of these principles, which are fundamental in international law, enshrined in the United Nations Charter, and affirmed by the GCC in all of its meetings, including the most recent Gulf summit in December 2022 and the 155th ministerial meeting in March 2023. During these correspondences, there was no discussion about who is responsible for this or that issue. Rather, the focus was on the commitment to these principles in general. The correspondences contributed to the creation of a good rapprochement between Iran and the GCC countries and an understanding of the governing principles of the negotiations between the two sides. This was facilitated by Iraq and Oman and resulted in the success of Chinese mediation, leading to the decision to restore diplomatic relations and revive cooperation mechanisms between Saudi Arabia and Iran, as well as the agreements signed in 1998 and 2001.
"The joint statement issued in Beijing includes the affirmation of the two states, Iran and Saudi Arabia, of respect for the sovereignty of states and non-interference in their internal affairs... This is one of the governing principles that I mentioned earlier, and it was a significant part of the discussions between the two sides," he elaborated.
Al-Uwaishiq further elucidated that the Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership, in which Iran participated twice (the first time in 2020-2021 and the second in December 2022), played an important role in providing a positive atmosphere that helped in the Saudi-Iranian rapprochement.
He noted that there is "some agreement on certain principles," and that he hopes for the expansion of this agreement. However, he remarked that "this requires adopting tangible measures to build trust, such as de-escalation – of which we see positive indications and which must continue – and the mitigating of hostile media exchanges and sectarian tensions. If this is achieved, I believe that the climate will be more conducive to the success of discussions on the issues included in the statement and decisions of the recent Arab summit, as well as those mentioned in the speeches of Dr. Kamal Kharrazi and Dr. Adel Abdul Mahdi. These are issues that concern citizens whether in Riyadh, Tehran, Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut or Sana'a."
Al-Uwaishiq identified five tracks through which he believes Iranian-Arab relations can evolve: First, the political and diplomatic track, to discuss regional crises such as Palestine, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, with the aim of agreeing to encourage political solutions in accordance with international resolutions, renouncing the use of force to achieve political goals, limiting nuclear proliferation, enhancing nuclear safety, ensuring compliance with international agreements related to nuclear proliferation, and reducing the spread of missiles and drones, especially to non-state actors. Second, the security track, to discuss terrorism, sectarian militias and other armed groups operating outside the framework of the law. Third, the economic track, to discuss enhancing trade exchange and investment between the countries of the region, including investment in renewable energy and organising investment conferences and trade exhibitions. Fourth, the track of environmental sustainability, to discuss the possibilities of cooperation in rehabilitating the marine environment of the Gulf and working together to address the impacts of climate change. Fifth, the cultural track, which is as important as the other four tracks, to revive the rich cultural exchange between the Arab world and Iran.
“In order to create the appropriate atmosphere, it is important for the discussions to be broad and involve non-official entities, such as universities, research centres and business sectors, on both sides. It is important to generate this momentum beyond the official framework,” he said.
Al-Uwaishiq concluded his speech by saying, “The remarkable achievements made in past decades in the fields of economy, development, education, culture and arts in the GCC countries can be more comprehensive, sustainable and powerful if Iran and its neighbours reach the desired level of trust, cooperation and integration in various areas. The integration between the Iranian and Gulf economies can elevate the rank of this economy beyond the eighth position, as the Iranian economy possesses significant, promising and important potential.”