as his statements moved from smoothing Israeli-Arab relations during his visit to Tel Aviv and then Khartoum, to highlighting the need to strengthen relations within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and end Qatar’s isolation.
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indicating that the US’s priority in the Gulf is still building a strong Gulf alliance in the face of Iranian expansion, especially since conditions are not yet ripe for building broader Gulf relations with Israel, and the United States is betting on the time factor to achieve this.
“Met today with Omani Sultan Haitham bin Tarik Al Said on the importance of building regional peace, stability, and prosperity through a united Gulf Cooperation Council,” Pompeo wrote on Twitter at the end of his visit to Muscat.
He further expressed his gratitude for the strong security partnership and economic ties with Oman.
For its part, the Oman News Agency said, “During the interview, aspects of the existing bilateral cooperation between the Sultanate and the United States were reviewed within the framework of the strong relations that bind them and matters of mutual interest between the two sides.”
Gulf analysts believe that broad Arab normalisation with Israel is not among Washington’s top priorities right now compared to its efforts to strengthen its alliance with Gulf states in the face of Iran, which is what makes it press on to resolve the Qatar crisis.
They pointed out, however, that the US State Department has a limited and expedient view of the matter and cannot really understand the real nature of the dispute nor the ways to overcome it.
The experts said that the Gulf dispute with Qatar is not a secondary dispute and is not related to organisational matters, nor does it express a difference in views; it is much deeper and fundamental, especially when Doha’s policies of relying on extremist groups in the region threaten the national security of the Gulf states, in addition to Qatar’s security and military agreements with Turkey and Iran, which affect the stability of the GCC and automatically side-line its traditions.
They noted that the arrival of Sultan Haitham bin Tariq at the helm of the Sultanate of Oman will greatly contribute to unifying the GCC, pointing to the clear transformation in the relationship between Muscat and the other Gulf capitals, especially Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, which would offset the absence of Qatar and may put pressure on Doha and force it to revise its position.
Gulf unity also seems to have been the focus of discussions during Pompeo’s visit to the UAE. The US State Department announced that Pompeo had spoken with his Emirati counterpart Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan about supporting “de-escalation and a lasting ceasefire in Libya, Gulf unity, and countering Iran’s malign influence in the region,”while the file of relations with Israel remained secondary.
It was reported that Pompeo would be visiting Qatar as part of his Gulf tour, but instead, the US secretary simply had a conversation over the phone with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani after his departure from Muscat.
Despite the much publicised Israeli-Emirati agreement, it is still difficult to talk about a strong trend in the Gulf to establish full relations with Israel.
Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa assured Pompeo of his country’s commitment to the Arab Peace Initiative, which provides for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in exchange for normalising relations with Israel.
The Bahraini position constitutes an implicit refusal to normalise relations with Israel any time soon. It is unlikely that Bahrain, a close ally of Saudi Arabia and the headquarters of the US Fifth Fleet, would move to establish relations with Israel without Riyadh’s blessing.
Saudi Arabia sponsored the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, which called for Israel’s withdrawal from all Palestinian territories it occupied in 1967 in exchange for peace and full normalisation of relations with Arab countries.
“Bahrain’s foreign policy is closely aligned with that of Saudi Arabia,” said Elham Fakhrou, a Gulf affairs analyst at the International Crisis Group. When Saudi Arabia confirmed its commitment to the Arab Peace Initiative last week, it became clear that Bahrain would follow the position of its biggest neighbour.”
Oman, on the other hand, “has always successfully balanced its diplomacy with different regional players, including Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel, and it is unlikely that it will want to lose its position as a neutral player and diplomatic mediator, by deviating from the position of the Arab League.”
Hugh Lovatt, a policy fellow with the Middle East and North Africa programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations, commented that “after American and Israeli officials spent days exaggerating the likelihood of other Arab countries following the UAE’s example in normalising relations with Israel, it seems that the lack of any public commitments during Pompeo’s regional tour is completely disappointing.”
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