First published in The National, 28 August 2012
by Elizabeth Dickinson
Representatives of Arabian Gulf states will meet those from Iran today to discuss one of the thorniest issues to mar their relationship: Syria.
The meeting is the second between the sides this month. Two weeks ago, the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, joined Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah for an emergency summit in Mecca.
The UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and Saudi Arabia will send representatives to attend a meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran for talks today and tomorrow, Iranian media reported.
The summit offers another chance for the countries to hash out their diverging positions on the Syrian crisis – or at least discuss them.
While Saudi Arabia and Qatar are said to actively support opposition to the Syrian president, Bashar Al Assad, Iran has remained a staunch ally of his regime.
“I don’t think the Gulf countries’ attendance represents rapprochement,” said Elizabeth Iskander, a fellow at the German Institute of Global and Area Studies. “Although such meetings can give states with a publicly complex relationship a ‘safe’ platform through which to meet on the fringes.”
At the summit of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference in Mecca two weeks ago, Syria’s membership in the body was suspended – a move the Iranian delegation dismissed as a way of avoiding rather than resolving the country’s crisis.
Despite the disagreements, however, many analysts said that Mr Ahmadinejad’s participation in the Saudi-hosted conference was a signal that discussion among the sides was possible. In Tehran, Saudi Arabia will be represented by the king’s son, Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al Saud.
The Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, Ramin Mehman-Parast, said the summit would focus on Syria, and he promised to present a “comprehensive” proposal to end the fighting, according to the Fars news agency.
“Iran wants diplomatically to say, ‘We failed to pass the exam in Mecca, but we will be able to do something here’,” said Mahjoob Zweiri, an expert in Arab-Iranian relations at Qatar University.
But Mr Zweiri said that significant cooperation between Iran and the Arabian Gulf countries on Syria seemed unlikely.
“Iran feels more isolated as a result of the Arab Spring within Arab nations,” he said. “The region is moving in a direction that Iran does not support.”