A Discussion with Gulf Cooperation Council Secretary General Dr. Abdul Latif Al Zayani

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and its six member-countries – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates – could hardly have been more in the news in recent days.

First, as noted in the analysis and assessment that follows, there was the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations’ meeting with and briefing by His Excellency Dr. Abdul Latif Bin Rashid Al Zayani, Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council, on September 18, 2015. National Council Founding President and CEO Dr. John Duke Anthony, the only American to have been invited to attend each and every GCC Ministerial and Heads of State Summit since the GCC’s establishment in 1981, presided, provided context, background, and perspective, and moderated the discussion and question and answer period.

GCC Secretary General Dr. Abdul Latif Bin Rashid Al Zayani addresses a meeting organized by the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations and its U.S.-GCC Corporate Cooperation Committee on September 18, 2015, in Washington, DC. Seated to the right of the Secretary General is H.E. Shaikh Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Khalifa, Ambassador of Bahrain to the U.S., and seated to the left of the Secretary General is National Council Founding President and CEO Dr. John Duke Anthony. Photo: National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations.

Second, the Fifth Ministerial Meeting of the GCC-U.S. Strategic Cooperation Forum was held in New York on September 30, 2015, in conjunction with the opening of the 70th United Nations General Assembly. According to the Joint Communique following the meeting, the discussion examined issues including “the humanitarian and political crisis in Syria, the importance of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between the P5+1 and Iran, the Middle East peace process, and the need for a political solution to the conflict in Yemen.”

Third, was the National Council’s standing-room-only October 6 meeting with and briefing by HRH Navy Captain (Ret.) Prince Sultan bin Khalid Al-Faisal Al Sa’ud in The Gold Room of the Rayburn Building of the U.S. Congress’ House of Representatives. In the ninety-minute meeting, Dr. Anthony provided an introductory overview of Saudi Arabia’s position and role in regional and global affairs and led a spirited discussion session following HRH Prince Sultan’s remarks.

HRH Prince Sultan outlined his views, analyses, and assessments of Saudi Arabia’s heightened assertiveness on the national and regional defense fronts. Upon the conclusion of his remarks, the Prince fielded close to thirty questions. HRH Prince Sultan’s address, Dr. Anthony’s remarks, and the Prince’s response to questions will be posted to the Council’s website by the end of the week.

Fourth, only two hours after the National Council’s program on Capitol Hill, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Senator Robert “Bob” Corker from Tennessee, conducted a hearing on“The U.S. Role and Strategy in the Middle East: Yemen and the Countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council.”Accompanied by six of his fellow Senators, he did so in the context of, among other things, President Obama’s summit with the representatives of all six GCC countries this past May at Camp David. Committee members also examined the GCC countries’ leadership in the ten-nation coalition fighting to restore the legitimate government of Yemeni President Hadi.

H.E. Dr. Abdul Latif Al Zayani, Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council, addresses a meeting of the United Nations Security Council concerning the situation in Yemen in September 2013. Photo: United Nations.

In addition, the members asked questions about where the United States and the GCC countries stand with regard not only to the conflict in Yemen. They also voiced their concerns about the situation in Syria and the respective approaches by Washington officialdom, on one hand, and the capitals of the GCC countries, on the other, to the challenges that an assertive and increasingly emboldened Iran poses to the region’s peace, security, and stability.

A recurring issue was GCC countries’ perception of a U.S. disengagement from the region, which American officials, with mixed success to date, have been at pains to deny. Coupled to this issue is what many in the GCC believe is an unspoken American intention to increase the position and role of Iran’s involvement in the region. Were such an eventuality to occur, numerous among the GCC’s analysts are of the view that it could come only at the GCC region’s expense.

Two outstanding resource specialists, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Mary Beth Long and former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Stephen Seche, delivered statements and fielded questions from the Senators for two hours.Their respective testimonies along with a video of the Hearing are available on the Foreign Relations Committee website.

All four of these developments serve to underscore the timeliness and relevance of GCC Secretary General Al Zayani’s following analyses and assessments at the National Council’s recent meeting and briefing.


A Discussion with Gulf Cooperation Council Secretary General H.E. Dr. Abdul Latif Bin Rashid Al Zayani

September 18, 2015

On Friday, September 18, 2015, the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations and the Council’s U.S.-GCC Corporate Cooperation Committee convened an informal seminar with GCC Secretary General Dr. Abdul Latif Bin Rashid Al Zayani. Present, in addition to GCC ambassadors to the United States, were national security, defense, and other foreign affairs analysts and practitioners as well as scholars and select graduate students from area universities.

Dr. Al Zayani’s remarks focused on issues and interests of current and ongoing importance to the GCC and its six member-countries: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. In a private meeting later with National Council President and CEO Dr. John Duke Anthony, the Secretary General agreed that the following summarization of his key points and perspectives could be published in keeping with the Council’s educational mission.

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A King From The East Approaches: Looking at King Salman’s Meeting with President Obama

King Salman’s visit to Washington comes at a unique time in the U.S.-Saudi Arabian relationship. The relationship is fundamentally strong. It is, however, characterized by a lack of adequate mutual understanding – among many there are different motives and goals, misattributions of intent, and stress on its underpinnings.

It is human nature to accept the positive aspects of a situation as given and to focus – and in some cases obsess – on the negative. So the following is warranted: the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia will not only endure. It is more likely to strengthen than weaken over time.

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Sa'ud and President Barack Obama during the president's January 27, 2015, visit to Saudi Arabia.

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Sa’ud and President Barack Obama during the president’s January 27, 2015, visit to Saudi Arabia. Photo: U.S. Department of State.

The disagreements and trends outlined below will not significantly disrupt the strong and committed strategic, economic, geopolitical, and defense cooperation relationship. Indeed, even if the meeting between King Salman and President Obama contains moments of what a freewheeling media may contend are contentious, the fact that the leaders of these two nations are meeting at all – and at this time to exchange views on matters of immense importance to both peoples – is in and of itself a sign of the relationship’s strength. For context: note that the United States and Great Britain meet to resolve differences; the Koreas do not. Of these two sets of relationships, one is strong and vital; the other is, at best, dysfunctional.

The positive aspects aside, that the media, Members of Congress, and lobbyists of all stripes will and have already begun to parrot and highlight elements of mistrust and misapprehension in the relationship is undeniable. Given those that support them – and/or to whom they seek to convey their analyses and net negative assessments of the Saudi Arabia-U.S. relationship – are who they are, this is in many ways to be expected. In the dynamics of give and take within a world where different parties and powers often display their competitive colors, such jousting between friends, allies, and partners – and adversaries, too – is also something else: part of the essence of two non-identical countries – name two countries that are not – being regional and international leaders.

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“Envisioning the GCC’s Future: Prisms for Perspective” – Remarks from GCC Secretary General Dr. Abdul Latif Al Zayani

Seldom is one able to gain insight into the foreign policy issues and objectives of any grouping of nations through the mind of one of its leaders. Even rarer is one introduced to the analyses and assessments of a leader of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). [The GCC is comprised of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.]

Such is the occasion in this instance. The National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations is privileged to publish an address by GCC Secretary General Dr. Abdul Latif Bin Rashid Al Zayani. On August 24, 2015, Dr. Al Zayani addressed a capacity audience at Queens’ College, University of Cambridge, convened for the Sixth Annual Gulf Research Meeting (GRM).

GCC Secretary General Dr. Abdul Latif Bin Rashid Al Zayani addresses the Sixth Annual Gulf Research Meeting in Cambridge, United Kingdom.

GCC Secretary General Dr. Abdul Latif Bin Rashid Al Zayani addresses the Sixth Annual Gulf Research Meeting in Cambridge, United Kingdom. Photo: Gulf Research Center.

Dr. Al Zayani’s remarks covered a broad range of topics. Principal among his focus were the implications for regional peace, security, and stability of the extraordinary trends and indications confronting the GCC in the past year. These included the domestic and international dynamics of violent extremism, Iran, Syria, and Yemen, together with other issues and challenges as well as opportunities.

Dr. Al Zayani, a native of Bahrain, is the fifth head of the Riyadh, Saudi Arabia-based GCC Secretariat General. He has held the post since December 2010. He holds a doctorate from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.

Of particular significance is that this was the fifth time for Dr. Al Zayani to address this annual meeting. The hundreds (fewer than twenty of whom were Americans) that he briefed and met with represented no ordinary assemblage. They encompassed what, by any standard, is the foremost yearly gathering of Arabian Peninsula and Gulf specialists known to convene anywhere.

Included among the international scholars, academics, researchers, analysts, authors, consultants, and other foreign affairs practitioners was a growing number of young researchers from the GCC region, Yemen, and Iraq, who represent the emerging generation of those destined to lead and manage the region’s future. Each of the participants came together this year, as on every previous occasion, for three full days of meetings, discussions, and debates. In so doing, beyond examining the present and coming state of affairs with regard to a virtual smorgasbord of topics, they also proposed and recommended solutions to some of the most vexing geopolitical, cultural, socio-economic, and foreign relations issues of the contemporary era.

What entices all who engage in the GRM’s exceptionally well-selected and choreographed seminars is their abiding interests and involvement in a variety of issues anchored in Arabia and the Gulf. This is the exact same focus of the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations’ recently concluded academic seminar for its Annual Washington, DC University Student Summer Internship Program in association with 22 sister organizations and the Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University. 25 interns, out of an applicant pool of 125 candidates, participated in this summer’s program.

None of the GRM’s presenters and other participants needed reminding of the extraordinary impact that this region has had and continues to have upon all of humankind. Nor, despite this, are they unaware of how the region’s peoples, cultures, economies, governmental structures, foreign relations, and systems of political dynamics constitute for millions worldwide the most often misunderstood and unfairly maligned of any on earth. Enter the Gulf Research Center, the GRM’s host convener.

The GRC, founded by Saudi Arabian Dr. Abdulaziz Sager, organizes and administers these Annual Gulf Research Meetings in association with Cambridge University. (The National Council entered into a Cooperative Agreement with the GRC this past year). No stranger to Washington, DC, Dr. Sager has addressed several National Council Conferences and Capitol Hill Seminars for Members of Congress, Congressional staff, media representatives, members of the diplomatic corps, and the broader U.S., Arab, and other foreign policymaking communities.

Dr. Abdulaziz Sager, Chairman of the Gulf Research Center, welcomes participants to the Sixth Annual Gulf Research Meeting (GRM). Since the first GRM in 2010, over 1,200 papers have been presented in 86 workshops and scholars from 86 countries have participated in the event.

Dr. Abdulaziz Sager, Chairman of the Gulf Research Center, welcomes participants to the Sixth Annual Gulf Research Meeting (GRM). Since the first GRM in 2010, over 1,200 papers have been presented in 86 workshops and scholars from 86 countries have participated in the event. Photo: Gulf Research Center.

The GRC has catapulted into one of the foremost of its kind in a very short period. Based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, with regional offices in Geneva, Switzerland, and Cambridge, United Kingdom, the GRC, in addition to its association with the National Council, has partnered with dozens of research and academic institutions in virtually every corner of the globe.

By special arrangement with Dr. Al Zayani, the National Council is privileged to share this edited version of his remarks to this year’s GRM.

Dr. John Duke Anthony
Founding President and CEO
National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations
Washington, DC


“Envisioning the GCC’s Future: Prisms for Perspective”

His Excellency Dr. Abdul Latif Bin Rashid Al Zayani, Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council

Remarks to the Gulf Research Center’s Sixth Annual Gulf Research Meeting at the University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom

August 24, 2015

Dr. Abdulaziz Sager, Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you once again for giving me the chance to return for the fifth occasion to this beautiful city to say a few words about some of our common concerns. In preparing for today, I looked back at my previous four talks. Reading them showed me clearly how the global and regional situation has worsened. Old tensions remain. New challenges abound. Two things struck me. The first was the optimism with which I spoke in 2012 about Yemen and my hopes for success of the GCC Initiative. The second was the pessimistic tone of my speech last year. I called then for a total realignment of thought to break the cycle of regional instability. In seeking solutions, my parting words were “do not be afraid to think what in the past would have been the unthinkable.”

Then and Now

So where are we today? Da’ish (Arabic for what many loosely refer to as the “Islamic State”) continues as the single greatest challenge for us all. Syria awaits, amid unabated devastation and bloodshed, a solution. The stubborn violence in Libya is ongoing. The so-called Middle East Peace Process is all but dead. Uncertainties over Iran’s destabilizing ambitions linger. Yemen is in the throes of a serious conflict. Our region continues to be the single worst breeding ground for extremism and harboring terrorism. At the same time, it has become the greatest importer of foreign fighters. Add to this the steep drop in oil prices, which has done nothing to enhance stability. Not a happy story, is it?

And yet in a strange sort of way, within all these dynamics, “the unthinkable has been thought!” There has been a clarification on certain issues. For instance, the initial stages of a final agreement on the Iran nuclear program, which is probably the best possible political solution for this thorny issue, has been signed. The unlikely alliances countering Da’ish are bonding more closely. The full impact of extremism is forcing the global community into a more cohesive counter stance. Lastly, the situation in Yemen is worse in terms of violence than it was last summer, but at least something is being done about it. It is these topics – the macro implications of the nuclear agreement, Da’ish and extremism, and the micro implications of the situation in Yemen – that we will consider.

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Paige Peterson – “My Time in Saudi Arabia”

National Council Board Member, Author, and Executive Vice President of Strategic Initiatives for the Huntsman Cancer Foundation, Paige Peterson.

National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations Board Member Paige Peterson published a travelogue in the New York Social Diary from her recent time in Saudi Arabia. Read about her visit to Jeddah, her experience as an author-in-residence at a school in the Eastern Province, and her drive through the desert in the first installment of the series. The second installment chronicled her visit to the Al Deira Souk and the Riyadh Ritz Carlton. The third installment discussed her participation in the C3 Saudi-American Healthcare Forum, created to advance “healthcare diplomacy” between the United States and Saudi Arabia. Finally, the fourth installment highlighted the achievements of four remarkable Saudi Arabian women she met during her visit.

Links to her pieces are available below.

My Time in Saudi Arabia, Part I

After my week in the Eastern Province, I packed my belongings for the drive to Riyadh noticing that the sky was ominous. The wind began to howl. I was assured “everything will be fine.” Off we drove into the desert. The trucks were moving slowly and steadily through the drifting sand in the right lane, but once on the highway we pulled into the fast lane, as fierce winds shoved our groaning aged SUV from side to side.

My Time in Saudi Arabia, Part II

I was amazed by this vibrant scene. Suddenly I detected a faint and exotic scent. It grew more intense. It was like a marvelous tonic. I followed my nose and all at once, we entered a stall whose perfume totally revived me.

The vendor was holding a black-handled torch that shot a flame into a lamp. Inside was frankincense. These incenses are part of life in the Middle East, used to perfume public rooms and homes. Yes, as in frankincense and myrrh. The incenses brought by the Three Wisemen to the stable. Here in this stall are sold medicinal incenses that have been traded in this part of the world for over five thousand years. This was by far the most exquisite shop in the souk. Very magical.

My Time in Saudi Arabia, Part III

I very much enjoyed being seated next to Dr. Selwa Al-Hazzaa. She is the first female doctor to hold the position of Consultant of Ophthalmology at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital. Forbes International Magazine chose Dr. Al-Hazzaa as one of “The Most Powerful Arab Women.” She is also a member of the Shura Council. She regaled us with a series of entertaining and provocative stories about her life. This is such a wonderfully verbal culture.

My Time in Saudi Arabia, Part IV

I asked four remarkable Saudi Arabian women to share their life stories in their words. They did more — they shared their private photos with me. Meet Khawla, Rasha, Yasmin, and Mona.

2015 Washington, DC Summer Internship Program Pictures

The National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations’ 2015 Washington, DC Summer Internship Program concluded last week. For 10 weeks the 25 student interns 1) worked at various Near East and Arab world related organizations in Washington; 2) took part in site visits to central institutions of federal government, national security policymaking, international diplomacy, and international business; and 3) completed a twice-weekly evening academic seminar on Arabia and the Gulf. Congratulations to the 2015 intern program participants for a great summer!

Some pictures from the program are available below.

Click ‘Continue Reading’ to view the full gallery.

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Transcript of Dr. Anthony Interview on the Iran Nuclear Deal

On July 20, 2015, National Council Founding President & CEO Dr. John Duke Anthony joined Al Youm on Al Hurra TV to discuss the P5+1 nuclear agreement with Iran. A transcript of his interview, edited for clarity, is available below along with a link to watch the interview [program in Arabic].

Watch Dr. Anthony’s interview with Al Hurra TV [program in Arabic]

Q: After passing a resolution in the UN Security Council approving and codifying the Iran nuclear agreement, what do you believe are the chances of getting the agreement approved by Congress?

A: The U.S. Congress wants to be certain that the arrangement is foolproof and that it is based not on trust but verification through an unprecedented inspection program. The effectiveness of the verification process will affect how and whether Congress is likely to approve or disapprove the agreement.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, joined by U.S. Energy Secretary Dr. Ernest Moniz and U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, testifies on July 23, 2015, about the Iranian nuclear deal before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington, D.C. Photo: U.S. Department of State.

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Nawaf Obaid: Saudi Arabia Is Preparing Itself In Case Iran Develops Nuclear Weapons

The below article from National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations Distinguished International Affairs Fellow Dr. Nawaf Obaid was published by The Telegraph on June 29, 2015. In addition to his position at the National Council, Dr. Obaid is a Visiting Fellow and Associate Instructor at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs as well as a Senior Fellow at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies. The views expressed are his own.

Read via The Telegraph

Saudi Arabia is preparing itself in case Iran develops nuclear weapons

By Dr. Nawaf Obaid

June 29, 2015

(The Telegraph) As the June 30 deadline approaches for the P5+1 – a group of nations including the US, Russia and China – and Iran to complete a nuclear agreement, all signs seem to be pointing to the fact that Britain alongside the US and France seem to be caving in on some of their long-standing central demands. Foremost among these is that Iran must be transparent about the “possible military dimensions” (PMDs) of its nuclear program.

This means that the ultimate agreement could leave open the potential for Iran to weaponize its nuclear program and acquire and then possibly deploy a nuclear weapon. Such a scenario represents a state of extreme danger to multiple nations, but few more so than Saudi Arabia, which has long been Iran’s primary opponent in the Middle East power balance.

Saudi Arabia has for past several years been laying the groundwork for a civil nuclear program with no PMDs. However, there is a strong possibility that the Kingdom might begin to engage in contingency planning for a defensive nuclear program with PMDs. This planning represents an emerging Saudi nuclear defence doctrine.

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