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Published On: Sun, May 24th, 2015

Obama Panders to GCC States Over a Prospective Nuclear Deal with Iran: Leverett and Marandi on CCTV’s The Heat

TND VideoCast Spotlight:  Hillary Mann Leverett |

Hillary assessed the Obama administration’s exceptionally maladroit handling of President Obama’s “summit” with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC leader) at Camp David on CCTV’s The Heat last week, see here.  She noted that, while ostensibly called to “reassure” GCC elites, Obama’s gathering at Camp David failed utterly to address the concerns that some Gulf Arab rulers actually have:

“Although there is some language that the U.S. would potentially use force to protect our Gulf allies, it’s very carefully caveated, with this language:  that we would be prepared—prepared, not that we would, but we would be prepared—to potentially use force if their territorial integrity, according to the UN Charter, is threatened.  That means, first and foremost, a very loud signal to them that if there’s an uprising in your country and they want to change the government, the United States is not coming.  That’s a very pointed message.  We have the example of Bahrain, where there’s been a lot of unrest.  If the people of Bahrain decided to rise up and change the government, the United States isn’t going to be there.

This is just about this speculative concern that maybe Iran, somehow, would invade these [GCC] countries and we would protect them.  But that’s not their fear; their fear is from their internal populations.  They call these segments of their populations—which, in some case, have been restive; they’ve often been marginalized, especially among the Shi’a communities—the Gulf States have taken to calling them ‘foreign, Iranian-backed elements.’  But they are part of their populations; these are their domestic constituencies…

Their [GCC] concerns are [also] about rising Iranian power in the region.  I have never met an official or an analyst from a Gulf state—or from here, in the U.S. government in Washington—that thinks Iran is going to send its military into any one of these countries.  The Islamic Republic of Iran has never invaded another country, and has never even threatened to do so.

Their [GCC] concern is not that a nuclear-armed Iran is going to use nuclear weapons to annihilate them.  Their concern is that, the more money Iran could amass coming out from under sanctions, the more it will have economic power, and it will translate that into military power, which it could use to support—either militarily or just philosophically—these domestic constituencies in the Gulf states, to rise up against their governments or to constrain their governments from attacking Iran.  That’s their concern; it’s not about Iran acquiring some mythical nuclear weapon.”

Hillary explained that the refusal of the kings of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to “even show up” at the meeting with President Obama was a particularly significant development:

“It was a very deliberate message, signal to the United States that Saudi Arabia may be going its own way.  Even more important, in some ways, than the Saudi king not coming—he said it was ostensibly because of developments in Yemen—was the probable Saudi instruction to the King of Bahrain, this small state where the U.S. Fifth Fleet is based, that the King of Bahrain not come here and instead go to London for a horse show with the Queen of England.  There could not be any greater insult…What it signifies is a profound shift, by the Saudis, away from the United States, and potentially for them even to deploy some of the elements of their power against the United States, in a way we’ve seen some precursors of before, but we’ve not really seen full force.”

Hillary goes on to elaborate some of the ways in which Saudi Arabia can deploy some of the elements of its power against the United States.

Of course, if the Obama administration really wanted to use a prospective nuclear deal with Iran to recast America’s Middle East strategy in more positive ways—including by recalibrating U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia—then GCC leaders’ unhappiness with the Camp David summit wouldn’t matter that much.  But the administration isn’t seeking to use an Iran nuclear agreement as the springboard for a comprehensive revision of America’s Middle East strategy.  In this regard, preemptively circumscribing the potential diplomatic impact of an Iran nuclear deal is the Obama administration’s most consequential—and foolish—way of pandering to GCC (and Israeli) concerns about nuclear diplomacy with Tehran.

Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes made this clear on the day GCC representatives met Obama at Camp David.  Speaking about a prospective nuclear deal with Iran, Rhodes presented the administration’s perspective in stark terms:

“It’s a transaction on the nuclear issue.  This is not a broader rapprochement between the United States and Iran on a range of issues; it is a very specific agreement that will deal with the Iranian nuclear program…We’ll still be just as concerned about Iran’s destabilizing activities, support for terrorism and proxies across the region.”

The episode of CCTV’s The Heat on which Hillary appeared also includes an important and in-depth discussion with our colleague, Seyed Mohammad Marandi of the University of Tehran’s Faculty of World Studies, see here and (for YouTube) here.

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Click here to learn about “Going to Tehran,” co-authored by Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett.  This article originally appeared at the “Going to Tehran” website and is reprinted with permission.

About the authors:

flynt_leverettFlynt Leverett is a professor at Pennsylvania State University’s School of International Affairs and is a Visiting Scholar at Peking University’s School of International Studies.

Dr. Leverett is a leading authority on the Middle East and Persian Gulf, U.S. foreign policy, and global energy affairs. From 1992 to 2003, he had a distinguished career in the U.S. government, serving as Senior Director for Middle East Affairs at the National Security Council, on the Secretary of State’s Policy Planning Staff, and as a CIA Senior Analyst. He left the George W. Bush Administration and government service in 2003 because of disagreements about Middle East policy and the conduct of the war on terror.

Dr. Leverett has written extensively on the politics, international relations, and political economy of the Middle East and Persian Gulf. In a series of monographs, articles, and opinion pieces (many co-authored with Hillary Mann Leverett), he has challenged Western conventional wisdom on the Islamic Republic of Iran’s foreign policy and internal politics, documented the historical record of previous Iranian cooperation with the United States, and presented the seminal argument in American foreign policy circles for a U.S.-Iranian “grand bargain”. His new book is Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic(also co-authored with Hillary Mann Leverett).

Dr. Leverett has published opinion pieces in many high-profile venues, including The New York Times, POLITICO, and CNN, and contributes frequently to Foreign Policy. He has been interviewed about Iran and its geopolitics on leading public affairs programs around the world, includingCharlie Rose, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, Empire and Riz Khan (Al Jazeera English), Viewpoint(Abu Dhabi Television), Spotlight (Russia Today) and Washington Journal (C-Span), as well as in leading publications such as Der Spiegel and Le Monde. Along with Hillary Mann Leverett, he was featured in the PBS Frontline documentary, “Showdown With Iran”, and profiled in Esquiremagazine.

Dr. Leverett has spoken about U.S.-Iranian relations at foreign ministries and strategic research centers in Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. He has been a visiting professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Yale University.

Dr. Leverett holds a Ph.D. in politics from Princeton University and is a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

# # # #

hillary-mann-leverettHillary Mann Leverett is a Senior Professorial Lecturer at the American University in Washington, DC and a Visiting Scholar at Peking University in Beijing, China. She has also taught at Yale University, where she was a Senior Lecturer and inaugural Senior Research Fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. She is also CEO of Strategic Energy and Global Analysis (STRATEGA), a political risk consultancy. Her new book is Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic (co-authored with Flynt Leverett).

Mrs. Leverett has more than 20 years of academic, legal, business, diplomatic, and policy experience working on Middle Eastern issues. In the George W. Bush Administration, she worked as Director for Iran, Afghanistan and Persian Gulf Affairs at the National Security Council, Middle East expert on the Secretary of State’s Policy Planning Staff, and Political Advisor for Middle East, Central Asian and African issues at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. From 2001-2003, she was one of a small number of U.S. diplomats authorized to negotiate with the Iranians over Afghanistan, al-Qa’ida and Iraq. In the Clinton Administration, Leverett also served as Political Advisor for Middle East, Central Asian and African issues for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, Associate Director for Near Eastern Affairs at the National Security Council, and Special Assistant to the Ambassador at the U.S. embassy in Cairo. She was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship and a Watson Fellowship, and in 1990-1991 worked in the U.S. embassies in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Egypt and Israel, and was part of the team that reopened the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait after the first Gulf War.

Ms. Leverett has published extensively on Iran as well as on other Middle Eastern, Central and South Asian, and Russian issues. She has spoken about U.S.-Iranian relations at Harvard, MIT, the National Defense University, NYU, the Norwegian Institute for International Affairs, and major research centers in China. She has appeared on news and public affairs programs on BBC, CNN, MSNBC, and Al Jazeera (Arabic and English), and was featured in the highly acclaimed BBC documentary, Iran and the West. She appeared in the PBS Frontline documentary, “Showdown With Iran”, and was profiled in Esquire magazine. Her articles, often co-written with Flynt Leverett, have appeared in Harper’s, The New York Times, Foreign Policy, The National Interest, Politico, the Penn State Journal of Law and International Affairs, the Washington Monthly, and The International Spectator. She has provided expert testimony to the U.S. House Government Reform and Oversight Committee.

Mrs. Leverett holds a Juris Doctor from Harvard University and a Bachelor of Arts in Near Eastern Studies from Brandeis University.

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