The GCC-US Summit, which begins today, reflects the depth of the strategic partnership between the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the United States of America, and the strong relations between the two sides in various fields that span more than half a century. The highly anticipated summit is the third in two year. It followed Camp David summit in 2015 and another summit in Riyadh in April 2016. Both summits discussed key issues in the Middle East and worked on a convergence of views in a number of files.
Today’s summit will be the first in the era of the US President Donald Trump who is visiting the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in his first foreign tour since taking office early this year, contrary to former US presidents who used to visit the neighbouring countries like Canada or Mexico in their first overseas trips. Held under the slogan “Together We Prevail”, the summit will focus on the threats facing security and stability in the region, combating terrorism and building trade relations between the United States and the GCC countries.
Riyadh Summit will be an opportunity for President Trump to adopt new positions towards GCC and Arab issues, especially since the international and regional situation has changed significantly, and the GCC countries, an main regional and international player that cannot be ignored, will act effectively against the changes that are affecting them directly.
The Summit will also be an opportunity to review of the priorities of the US policy in the region, especially in the face of the continuing attempts to destabilise the region. It will also discuss the Syrian crisis, which entered its seventh year, the fate of Assad in the political settlement, the fight against terrorism and the ISIS, the Palestinian cause, the support for legitimacy in Yemen, and the Libyan crisis.
Observers see that the GCC-US Summit will be a historic opportunity to greatly consolidate the strategic relations between the two sides, an to work on the establishment of a positive dialogue to address issues of common concern, as well as strengthening economic and cultural relations between the GCC countries and the United States.
The situation in the region, especially the Syrian crisis, will dominate the talks during the summit. President Trump has stressed recently the need to establish safe zones in Syria and his keenness to resolve the crisis and put an end to the Syrian people suffering, which are all supported by the GCC countries.
The summit will also discuss the efforts in support of the legitimacy in Yemen, the situation in Libya, as well as the challenges facing the region and the world, mainly the crisis of refugees and the spread of terrorism.
Meanwhile, the summit will also focus on issues of mutual concern for both sides, mainly the security of the Gulf region and economic cooperation with the United States.
The United States is aware about the importance of maintaining security in the GCC region for the mutual strategic interests, and the strategic importance of the Gulf region became greater and the GCC countries became an affective and active actor in the region, especially after the launch of the “Decisive Storm” operation in March 2015 in support of legitimacy in Yemen, and their role in the Islamic alliance to fight terrorism.
The last Riyadh Summit sought to find common grounds to address critical conflicts in the region. The summit stressed joint belief that armed conflicts in the region can only be solved through political and peaceful means, respect for the sovereignty of all States, and non-interference in their internal affairs. The summit also stressed the need for finding a governance that includes the protection of minorities and respect for human rights in States in conflict.
After Trump assumed presidency, doubts arose about the future of the relationship between the two sides, especially in light of Trump’s statements during his campaign. However, the new US president showed keen to improve his country’s relations with the GCC countries in more than one occasion. He also received a number of GCC officials in the White House, and then came the announcement that he will start his official foreign visits in the Kingdom Saudi Arabia. His upcoming summit with the leaders of the GCC countries underlined the US keenness to preserve and develop its relations with the GCC countries.
The GCC-US relations started even before the establishment of the Gulf Cooperation Council in May 1981. The presence of the United States in the Gulf came after the discovery of large quantities of oil in Bahrain in 1932, followed by the arrival of Standard Oil company in the Gulf in 1933, to kick off a regional transformation for the GCC countries which became global supplier of energy.
The US-Saudi summit between President Franklin Roosevelt and King Abdulaziz Al-Saud in February 1945 was the beginning of establishing the US relationship not only with the Kingdom but also with all the Gulf states. The meeting helped the establishment of one of the most important strategic relations in the twentieth century.
Founding of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in Baghdad in 1960 also represented a historic transformation in the GCC relations with the United States and the west in general. The massive oil imports in the mid-1970s formed of a new type of the GCC-US partnership based on the development of the security and military capabilities of the GCC countries, then the cooperation in the fields of drilling, exploration and oil and gas technology with major US companies.
In 1980, President Jimmy Carter declared in his federal speech that any attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Arabian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force. During the Iraqi-Iranian war 1980-1989, the strategic partnership between the GCC countries and the United States took another dimension based on the necessity of serious cooperation to preserve security in the Gulf region in the face of the security challenges affecting its stability.
Several joint defense agreements were signed separately between the Gulf states and the United States during that period, such as the security agreement between Oman and the United States in 1981, which was renewed in 2010 and allows for comprehensive cooperation between the two countries to maintain security and navigation in the Gulf region.
In 1991 after the Liberation of Kuwait war, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait signed similar agreements with the US, which include a long-term strategic and defense partnership reinforced by strong ties between the two countries and the United States. In 1992, Qatar and the United States signed a security agreement to strengthen cooperation between the two countries in military affairs. The GCC-US relations witnesses a new development during the presidency of former US President George W. Bush through the so-called “Gulf Security Dialogue” which was launched in 2005 to reflect the efforts made by Washington by strengthening the deterrent capabilities of the GCC states.
The strategic interests of the United States in the Gulf are mainly economic, with 54% of the world’s oil reserves and 40% of the natural gas reserves in the Gulf region. In light of the regional political developments, the stability of the GCC market is linked to the recovery of the US economy, which raised the importance of cooperation between the United States and the GCC countries to promote economic reform and diversification, and to increase trade relations to help the GCC countries face the growing economic challenges, as well as the volume of trade exchange between the two sides, which was agreed at the first meeting of the US-GCC Strategic Cooperation Forum in Riyadh in March 2012, which was held under the title the US-GCC Framework Agreement for Trade, Economic, Investment and Technical Cooperation.