Future of Iran, Iraq, Arab Gulf States Explored at UCLA International Conference

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Future of Iran, Iraq, Arab Gulf States Explored at UCLA International Conference

Pat and Samir Twair are free-lance journalists based in Los Angeles.

A decade after the Gulf war and 20 years since the onset of the Iran-Iraq war, UCLA scholars hosted a two-day conference entitled "Iran, Iraq, and the Arab Gulf States in 2000 and Beyond."

A stellar cast of Middle East experts appeared for the May 3 sessions focusing on "Internal Concerns" and May 4 panels dealing with "Regional Concerns." The conference was organized by Dr. Joseph A. Kechichian.

"Trends for the Future" was the title of the concluding panel with Prof. Afaf Lutfi al-Sayyid Marsot as chair. The consensus was that the Gulf Cooperation Council states need to expand ties with Iran and Iraq.

This was exemplified by Hassan Hamdan al-Alkim, who stated: "The United States views Iran and Iraq--not Israel--as the biggest threat to the region. Baghdad and Tehran are neighbors of the Gulf states, not Tel Aviv."

In his paper dealing with "Challenges to Gulf Security in the 21st Century," the United Arab Emirates University political scientist stated: "Unsettled border disputes, the arms race, as well as winds of change seem to have affected the people of the Gulf, but not their rulers."

Even though unstable oil prices threaten the positions of the ruling families, Al-Alkim said there is a reluctance to concede to the demands of the people.

Reasoning that U.S. Gulf policy is driven by its concern for the security of Israel and the free flow of oil, the U.S. has spent more than $60 billion on the defense of the region. Part of this plan, he said, has been the dual containment of Iran and Iraq which has led to a dead end.

China and Russia object to the heavy U.S. presence in the Gulf. European nations, which obtain 20 percent of their oil from the region, disagree with Washington's policy of making Israel its foremost concern in the Middle East.

"The U.S. obsession with Israel's wellbeing fuels the arms race in the region," the UAE scholar concluded. "The U.S. presence is creating regional instability and is preventing democratization by propping up monarchies and interfering in intra-family struggles, all of which deter concessions to the people."

Dr. Shireen Hunter of the Center for Strategic and International Studies examined the potential for cooperation between Iran and the Gulf states.

Since the 1997 convening of an Islamic Conference in Tehran, there has been a general trend toward reconciliation, she pointed out. "And, in light of the provocative rhetoric of the Iranian revolutionaries, it is surprising that so many Arab states attended."

Despite contrasts in population and resources and sectarian differences, Dr. Hunter said there is hope for reconciliation as territorial disputes are being solved. She noted that Washington prefers a state of distrust between the Arab Gulf states and Iran.

In fact, she said, the biggest threat to Iran may be its exploding population, which calls for creating one million new jobs each year.

Saif bin Hashil al-Maskery, who heads the Center for Research and Consultancy in al-Khuwair, Oman, opened his talk with population statistics. Iran and Iraq account for 76 percent of the total population, and when Yemen is brought into this equation, the three make up 82 percent of the population of the region. …