Gulf-Iranian Relations: Facts & Future Perspectives
The victory of reformist President Hassan Rouhani in the Iranian presidential elections held in June 2013 raised numerous questions about the future of Iran’s policy toward the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council(GCC).

An analysis of Gulf and Arab newspapers that covered the election results showed that opinions were sharply divided. There were those who welcomed the results, arguing that it would mean the end of the conservative era which prevailed during the two terms of former President Ahmadinejad. An era characterized by the intransigence of Iranian discourse toward the GCC, in particular over the contentious issues between the two sides as well as increasing cases of Iranian interference in the affairs of the GCC countries, particularly in Bahrain.

The other trend that emerged because of Rouhani’s election victory was dominated by pessimism, reasoning that Iran did have in the past different presidential administrations run by the reformist movement, but they did not lead to a fundamental change in the country’s policy toward the Gulf Cooperation Council. Therefore the election results were merely a change of figures, and not policies. Between the two trends, an objective observation of the elections and their impact on Iran’s foreign policy in general, and towards the Gulf Cooperation Council in particular, requires taking into account several factors.

The first factor is the nature of the Iranian political system, where the president is not the top decision-maker, because those who established the political system wanted to achieve a “balance of powers” that does not allow the tyranny of one branch over others.

The second factor is the historical experience of the Gulf Cooperation Council towards Iran; since Tehran has fixed objectives within its foreign policy that do not change with the change of the ruling elites. The only change is in the mechanism used by the ruling regime in Iran in dealing with those issues.

The third factor is the regional and international context; Iran and the Gulf Cooperation Council are part of the Gulf region that interacts with the Middle East and the international community, mutually affecting one another.

The fourth factor involves pending issues between the Gulf Cooperation Council and Iran that cannot be separated from Iran’s vision of the security of the Arabian Gulf.

The fifth factor is the Gulf Cooperation Council’s policies toward Iran, which are at times divergent, and their impact on the overall Gulf – Iranian relations.

On the other hand, the interim agreement which was signed between Iran and the P5+1 countries on Iran’s nuclear program on November 23, 2013 is a remarkable development in the context of Gulf-Iranian relation.

Despite the GCC’s statements that they welcomed the agreement as it may pave the way toward a peaceful solution of Iran’s nuclear crisis, in line with the steady positions of the GCC countries in this regard, the concerns of these countries are many. These concerns include that the six-month period may not be sufficient to resolve the very complex issue and therefore the interim agreement will probably not be the first or last agreement from a potential of series of arrangements.

There are also fears emanating from the Gulf that the agreement will not be confined to the nuclear issue and may at some point include regional issues regarding Iran’s role in the security of the Gulf, in light of the existence of many contentious issues between the two sides. Therefore, the fears of the GCC countries lie not in the agreement, but in its content.

Overall, the issue that the GCC countries have with Iran is not only the nuclear dossier, but also includes the gap between words and deeds.

The GCC countries have often times said that they do not mind cooperating with Iran, based on geographic considerations that cannot be denied. However, the Iranian interference in the internal affairs of GCC countries as well as the existence of a number of contentious issues between the two sides have prevented this cooperation.

Based on the aforementioned, this study aims to answer the following six questions:

1- What are the parameters by which one can understand the nature of the Gulf – Iran relationships? 2- What are the factors that led to Hassan Rouhani’s victory in the Iranian presidential elections? 3- Will the new Iranian president be able to make a real difference in the current Iranian foreign policy toward the GCC states in light of the contentious issues between the two sides? 4- What concessions can be granted by Iran on contentious issues with the Gulf Cooperation Council? 5- What are the prospects for a successful agreement between Iran and the P5+1 countries on Iran’s nuclear program? 6- What is the required Gulf strategy toward Iran’s current and future regional policies in general?
December 2018
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