“Yemen-U.S. Relations in Focus” – 24th Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference

Session on Yemen-U.S. Relations in Focus with H.E. Ambassador Ahmed Awad Bin Mubarak, from the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations’ 24th Annual Arab-US Policymakers’ Conference, “U.S.-Arab Relations at a Crossroads: What Paths Forward?,” on October 15, 2015, in Washington, DC.

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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

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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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Yemen in Crisis: What Next?

Ms. Sama'a Al-Hamdani speaks at a June 29, 2015 NCUSAR briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

Ms. Sama’a Al-Hamdani speaks at a June 29, 2015 NCUSAR briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

On June 29, 2015, the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations and the U.S.-GCC Corporate Cooperation Committee hosted a public affairs briefing on “Yemen in Crisis: What Next?” in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC.

Featured specialists included Dr. Noel Brehony, Chair, Menas Associates, Former Chair, British Yemeni Society, and Author, Yemen Divided: The Story of a Failed State in South Arabia; Ms. Sama’a Al-Hamdani, Analyst and Writer, Yemeniaty, and former Assistant Political Officer, Embassy of the Republic of Yemen in Washington, DC; and Mr. Peter Salisbury, Journalist and Analyst, the Financial Times, The Economist, Vice News, and other publications, and former Consultant, Chatham House Yemen Forum. Dr. John Duke Anthony, Founding President and CEO, National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, and Member, U.S. Department of State Advisory Committee on International Economic Policy and Subcommittee on Sanctions, served as moderator and facilitator.

A video recording and a podcast of the program are available below. The podcast can also be found in iTunes along with recordings of other National Council programs: http://bit.ly/itunes-ncusar.

“Yemen in Crisis: What Next?” podcast (.mp3)

The GCC-U.S. Summit: An Opportunity for Strategic Reassurance?

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An unprecedented and extraordinary event is about to occur: a heads of state summit. These, by any standard, can be and often are extraordinary events. That’s what this one is. It is so because it gathers in the capital of the United States President Barack Obama with the representatives of the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The two-day summit is set for May 13-14, 2015.

GCC leaders are scheduled to meet with the president in Washington on day one and on day two gather with him in the more capacious and secluded confines of Camp David. The latter venue is a longtime private presidential meeting place in the Maryland foothills, which is conducive to wide-ranging and deeply probing discussions on matters of common, timely, and varying degrees of urgent interest to the president, his advisers, his guests, and their advisers. The focus of this essay is the issues, challenges, and opportunities that will focus the principals’ attention while there.

The Summit’s Participants in Context

That the summit is occurring at this time is no mere coincidence. In terms of the GCC-U.S. relationship, it brings to the forefront the chief representative of the world’s most militarily, economically, and technologically advanced nation. Joining him will be the leaders of six neighboring Arab Gulf countries from what is arguably the world’s most strategically vital region that are little known and even less well understood by the American people as a whole.

What needs to be better comprehended by the American public regarding these countries are the roots and nature of their multifaceted strategic importance not just to their peoples and immediate region, but also the United States and the world in general. To begin with, the six GCC countries possess thirty per cent of the planet’s proven reserves of oil, the vital strategic commodity that drives the world’s economies. Collectively, they are also the holders of the developing world’s largest reservoir of financial assets, as measured in the trillions of dollars.

Crude Oil 2014 Proved Reserves.

In addition, the GCC countries have no rivals in their combined positive impact on the American aerospace and defense industries. In the past half-decade, their purchases of U.S.-manufactured defense and security structures, systems, technology, weaponry, ammunition, training, maintenance, and operational assistance have massively impacted and continue to impact the American economy.

The dynamism and mutuality of benefits in the U.S.-GCC relationship are envied by virtually every country that wishes it could accomplish anything remotely similar.

The purchases of American export goods and services by these countries have provided jobs essential to the material wellbeing of millions of Americans. They have extended production lines of products that would otherwise no longer be available. As a consequence, they have lowered the cost per unit of many American manufactured goods. In so doing, they have thereby enhanced the competitiveness of this component of the American economy to a degree envied by virtually every government or corporation in other countries that would wish they could accomplish anything remotely similar.

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Dr. Anthony on the Crisis in Yemen

Following is an edited version of National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations Founding President & CEO Dr. John Duke Anthony’s remarks to the Saudi Press Agency on April 22, 2015, about the latest developments regarding Yemen.

Q: How do you assess the decision to end Operation Decisive Storm?

A: What drove the decision was the achievement of the campaign’s objective.

Q: And what was that?

A Royal Saudi Air Force F-15 taking part in Operation Decisive Storm. Photo: Saudi Press Agency.

A: It was multifold. For example, it was not just to ensure that the chaos in Yemen would not spread to Saudi Arabia. To that end, it was to guarantee that the kingdom’s national sovereignty, political independence, and territorial integrity would remain assured and intact. It was also to ensure that Yemen’s rebels and all other armed groups in Yemen would not have the means to threaten the kingdom militarily.

Q: How was this accomplished?

A: It was achieved by the kingdom’s air force taking out Yemen’s missiles by disabling its ballistic missile defense structures and systems as well as by dismantling most if not all of Yemen’s main ammunitions depots, ordinance warehouses, and weapons-firing capabilities. It was also achieved by gaining and maintaining effective control of Yemen’s air space; by administering an effective blockade of the major ports: namely, Aden and Hodeida if not also Mukalla; and by protecting its borders from Houthi rebel incursions.

Only by first accomplishing these goals could the kingdom’s armed forces begin to launch its second campaign: namely, Operation Restoring Hope.

Q: What are the defining features of Operation Restoring Hope?

A: They are threefold: political, economic, and humanitarian.

Q: How likely is it that these goals can be achieved?

A: In the immediate term, the long answer is the same as the short one – unlikely.

 

Q: Why is that?

A: It has to do with the nature of Yemen’s economy, resources, and overall situation from the perspective of the people’s material well-being.

Q: What do you mean by that?

A: I mean that Yemen is one of the Arab world’s poorest countries in terms of its gross national product as well as the income of its people per capita. I mean that it would be impossible to find another Arab country that is as massively and pervasively poor. Anyone who has lived and worked in the country and come to know its people, as I have been privileged to do, will acknowledge that the Yemeni people are among the world’s hardest working and at the same time the most in need of immediate and sustained economic and humanitarian support.

A Yemeni leader of tomorrow in Thula. Photo: Dr. John Duke Anthony.

Indeed, few if any would deny that Yemen is in dire need of economic, material, and human resource assistance across the board in practically every sector associated with the country’s quest not just for sustained modernization and development, but also humanitarian aid in terms of food, safety, and shelter – right now and for the foreseeable future.

In this regard, the Gulf Cooperation Council countries – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates – have not been found wanting. To the contrary, both individually and collectively, they have been and remain second to none in having extended whatever assistance they could – and can – in support of the legitimate needs, concerns, and interests of the Yemeni people. In this, Saudi Arabia has been in the lead, having provided over the past several decades more economic and developmental assistance to Yemen than all the rest of the countries and the world’s international financial and economic development organizations combined.

Q: But what has been the result?

A: The answer is far more and far less than one might imagine. Before and since the rebel uprisings occasioned by the Arab Spring in 2011 and the earlier and ongoing rebellion by the Shia Houthi tribes in the region north of the Yemeni capital of Sana’a – indeed, in an area that lies adjacent to the Saudi Arabian border – the degree and nature of support by the central government has been less than the people of this area believe would have been and should have been their rightful share. But in this self-centric view, they were not fundamentally different from innumerable other groups in Yemen that also felt deprived of what they have argued ought to be their due.

Yemen’s Human Development Index (HDI) indicators for 2013 relative to selected countries and groups. Source: United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report 2014, “Yemen Country Notes,” http://hdr.undp.org/sites/all/themes/hdr_theme/country-notes/YEM.pdf.

Q: Is this all there is to the situation?

A: No. What many overlook is that the humanitarian goals in Yemen cannot be accomplished without the achievement, first, of security and stability. Humanitarian administration, operations, distribution, and logistics will not be successful unless these two goals can be achieved. The adage of “Capital is a coward” – it is reluctant to go where security and stability is absent – applies in this instance.

The economic factors necessary for the success of Operation Restoring Hope can be divided into two parts. The first and easier part is financing this effort towards which the “Friends of Yemen” countries have pledged billions of dollars with very little additional effort being required to secure the funds necessary. The second part, which is the harder part, is to ensure that the economic aid is distributed efficiently and effectively to the official and known parties in Yemen who would in turn use this assistance to help the population and the country recover from the current dire situation. Great care must be taken to prevent the economic aid from reaching unofficial or hostile parties who would use it to further destabilize Yemen, and threaten its neighbors, or use it for personal benefit.

It is also important to remember that the Yemeni crisis is a direct result of the political positions, policies, and attitudes of the different parties in Yemen. The ensuing political chaos is the largest contributive factor to the current crisis in Yemen. A political solution in Yemen based on political conviction, commitment, and courage by all parties must be reached. Otherwise, Operation Restoring Hope will not achieve its desired goals.

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Dr. John Duke Anthony is the Founding President & CEO of the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations.

The Consolidation of a New Arab Political Order

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Operation Decisive Storm Coalition Forces' spokesman Saudi Brigadier General Ahmed Asiri provides a briefing on developments in the campaign.

Operation Decisive Storm Coalition Forces’ spokesman Saudi Brigadier General Ahmed Asiri provides a briefing on developments in the campaign. Photo: Saudi Press Agency.

While the Saudi-led Operation Decisive Storm against the Yemeni Houthis and their allies continues and its long-term results are so far unknown, it is not pre-mature to project that a new Arab political order is being consolidated. Its elements include a firm and sustainable commitment to fight extremism and sectarianism, bring order and stability to the heart of the Arab world – namely, Syria and Iraq – and design, chart, and lead an independent course for the protection of pan-Arab national interests.

Such an order has a leader in the collective energies and capabilities of the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, with Saudi Arabia as a first among equals, and essential assistance from such countries as Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco. Indeed, to assure its collective interests, arrive at a hoped-for peaceful stability, and sustain much needed political, economic, and social development, the Arab world must coalesce around a strong political order that can utilize its capacities and permissible international conditions to achieve what it needs and deserves. Importantly, the consolidated new Arab political order appears to emphasize essential principles that require astute judgment, committed resources, and continuous vigilance.

Fighting Extremism and Sectarianism

The status quo states of the new Arab order are cognizant of the threats represented by the plethora of extremist groups operating at the heart of the Arab world. In Yemen, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has staked a claim in Hadramawt Province abutting the Saudi Arabian border after it lost its bases in Shabwa and Abyan to the west. In Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State group has erased the borders between the two countries in a mission to re-establish an imagined and borderless Islamic Caliphate while al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front controls strategic areas of Syria. Both organizations are serious threats to Lebanon and its pluralist political society.

In Libya, the Islamic State group, al-Qaeda affiliated Ansar ash-Shari’a, and a sundry of militias have settled, and promise to both keep the country unstable and use it as a base to spread chaos and mayhem elsewhere. In Tunisia and Egypt, jihadist extremists are waging a war of attrition against state security institutions. The actors of the consolidating Arab political order must know full well that they alone can address this threat in a fashion that combines a sense of shared responsibility for common interests and an attempt at forging an independent course that serves such interests.

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