Gulf Council Head Looks At a New Post-War Order
Mutual benefits, not charity, will govern rich states' ties to neighbors. ARAB FRATERNITY
RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA
WHEN the pieces of the Middle East are put back together after the Gulf war, Iran is likely to emerge as a major player in regional security plans. But there will be no room for Saddam Hussein's Iraq, according to Abdullah Bishara, secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The head of the regional grouping - formed by the six conservative kingdoms, emirates, and sultanates of the Arabian peninsula now at war with Iraq - also warned in an interview here that poor Arab states would find their oil-rich brethren more sparing with their aid in future.
``This is the demise of Arab fraternity,'' said Mr. Bishara, a Kuwaiti, clearly bitter at the way some Arab governments have shown understanding for Saddam. ``It will be superseded by mutual benefit and strategic affinity.''
Some Western diplomats and Saudi officials, however, have reservations about these predictions, suggesting that when the heat of battle has cooled, calmer reasoning will soften the hard line commonly taken at the moment.
As he sketches out his vision of postwar regional security arrangements, Bishara says he ``cannot imagine any new order in which this [Iraqi] regime participates; any new order which envelopes Iraq has to be with a new regime.''
This goes well beyond the official United States and coalition goal for the war, which is only to free Kuwait from Iraqi occupation.
But Bishara's assumption that Saddam will not survive the fighting, at least as his country's ruler, matches the view Saudi officials express in private that there is no way they can live with him on their northern border.
The Saudis, however, are genuinely anxious that Iraq should not be destroyed in the coalition campaign, according to Western diplomats here.
Although Bishara insists that ``Iraq has to be defanged, we have to cripple Iraq'' and that ``everyone will be happy with a spineless Iraq,'' diplomats say this underestimates the role that the Arab world hopes a new Iraq will continue to play as a bulwark against non-Arab Iran, as it did during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war.
Caught up with fighting the current war itself, officials here have given little thought yet to the nature of the region when peace returns, and plans for a postwar regional security net are necessarily hazy.
Iran's potential role is one of the most controversial and delicate topics of debate in the Gulf region. Fear of its sheer size and military might is compounded by past Iranian efforts to destabilize Kuwait, to overthrow the government of Bahrain, and to stir up religious sentiment to its own ends in Saudi Arabia.
On top of all that, the Gulf countries are predominantly Sunni Muslim, with an inbred suspicion of Iranian Shiites.
``The trust most Gulf Arabs have in Iran is the trust that monkeys have in a snake,'' as a Western diplomat here puts it.
For the GCC chief, however, ``there is no alternative to an understanding with Iran. We share the Gulf with them, and we have to reach an agreement with them.''
Although Bishara would not be more specific on what this might mean in practical military terms, he insisted that ``Iran is a very important player in Gulf security and we are engaged in talks about normalizing and strengthening our relations.''
The tiny emirate of Qatar, itself anxious to resolve a border dispute with Iran, is understood to be acting as go-between, exploring the possibilities of closer ties with Tehran.
While Bishara's projected ``new Arab order'' would open up to old enemies, it would turn its back on old friends.
``Farewell to the slogans of the past'' about Arab brotherhood and solidarity, Bishara says.
``The GCC countries were shocked to discover that when the chips were down, those who had benefited from their munificence [such as Jordan, Sudan, Yemen, and Algeria, which have not joined the anti-Iraqi coalition] turned against them, that economic contributions went unrewarded,'' he explains.
``The new order will be based on a new approach,'' he forecasts. ``We used our economic clout in the past for charity. Now we are going to use it for mutuality of benefits. Economies in the Arab world have to be de-politicized, they must be free market. If I invest in Damascus, I want to be sure I have a reward and that my interest will be protected.
``Realpolitik means that one day we will have to cooperate with Jordan, but it will be on the basis of mutual benefits. The benefactor-beneficiary relationship is off.''
If the billions of dollars that GCC countries have given each year in aid did not buy the loyalty of all its Arab recipients, those who did decide to join the coalition can expect rewards, Bishara says.
``Egypt and Syria will be the bulwarks of the new order, the stalwarts of the future,'' he predicts.
Hardest hit by this new policy, should it be fully implemented, would be the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), whose support for Saddam has drawn the especial fury of Gulf leaders.
Since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Gulf countries have cut off their funding to the PLO and publicly vilified PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat.
``But the PLO has died many deaths and has always come back,'' points out the Western diplomat.
``Ideally they [the Gulf states] would like to create an alternative PLO, but I think they will find Arafat is irreplaceable,'' adds a European diplomatic observer. And on the aid front, he believes, ``the line will soften, to stave off criticism of stinginess, but they will be more careful about it.''