Washington, DC – The United States and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have released a joint statement, spelling out shared priorities and finding common ground even on issues where the two do not often see eye to eye.
The communique on Thursday came after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken attended a GCC meeting as part of his visit this week to Saudi Arabia.
In the statement, the US underscored its “enduring commitment” to the Gulf region despite concerns about its waning influence in the Middle East in an increasingly multipolar world, where Washington is turning its foreign-policy focus to competition with China.
Here Al Jazeera looks at key takeaways from the lengthy statement, which addresses an array of regional and global crises.
Two-state solution ‘along 1967 borders’
The statement calls for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “along 1967 borders with mutually agreed swaps consistent with internationally recognized parameters and the Arab Peace Initiative”. Those terms would ensure a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank, including occupied East Jerusalem.
The initiative, endorsed by the Arab League in 2002, makes the Arab states’ recognition of Israel conditional on ending the occupation of Arab territories and finding a “fair solution” to the plight of Palestinian refugees.
This is not the first time the administration of US President Joe Biden has invoked the 1967 borders as a basis for resolving the conflict.
We appreciate the Gulf Cooperation Council @GCC’s partnership, including our urgent work together on the situation in Sudan, seeking a durable solution to the conflict in Yemen, and countering Iran’s destabilizing behavior. pic.twitter.com/xaGQvV6HK3
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) June 7, 2023
But the statement marks a rare written endorsement of that framework from a US administration that has repeatedly said it considers Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital.
Former President Donald Trump moved the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in violation of international law — a decision that the current administration has pledged not to reverse.
Biden has also failed to fulfill a campaign promise to reopen a consulate for Palestinians in the holy city amid Israeli opposition.
The US provides at least $3.8bn in military aid to Israel annually.
No mention of Israel normalisation
Blinken had made no secret of his intention to push for formal relations between Israel and Arab states — particularly Saudi Arabia — during his trip.
In a speech earlier this week, he said Washington has a “real national security interest in promoting normalisation” between Israel and the kingdom.
Addressing the GCC on Wednesday, Blinken reiterated that the US is “collaborating with countries in the region to widen and deepen the normalisation of relations with Israel”.
But the joint statement on Thursday made no mention of Arab-Israeli normalisation.
The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain — two GCC members — as well as Morocco agreed to initiate diplomatic ties with Israel in 2020 as part of a push brokered by Trump. Sudan also agreed to join the normalisation pact, known as the so-called Abraham Accords.
Saudi officials have said previously that they are committed to the Arab Peace Initiative, which links Arab-Israeli ties to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
Welcoming Saudi-Iranian ties
The US-GCC joint statement unambiguously welcomed the rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Past US statements had shown cautious backing at best for the Chinese-brokered deal that saw the two countries restore bilateral ties.
“The Ministers welcomed the decision by Saudi Arabia and Iran to resume diplomatic relations and stressed the importance of adherence to international law, including the UN Charter, by states of the region,” Thursday’s statement said.
Earlier this week, US Department of State spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters that the US “would certainly take issue with countries that are going to take steps to further normalise or deepen their collaboration with or cooperation with the Iranian regime”.
In a subsequent email to Al Jazeera, a State Department spokesperson said Patel was simply referring to the US commitment with its allies “to confront the Iranian regime’s destabilizing behavior in the region and its human rights abuses at home”.
“As we have been clear, we have long encouraged direct dialogue and diplomacy, including between Iran and regional governments,” the spokesperson said.
Thursday’s joint statement voiced commitment to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and called on Iran to cooperate with the United Nations watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Common ground on Syria
The Biden administration has previously openly voiced opposition to its Arab allies’ drive to rekindle ties with the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad.
But the sides appeared to find consensus on Thursday, saying that they support a political resolution to the crisis that preserves Syria’s unity, in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which calls for free elections in the country.
“In that regard, the Ministers welcomed Arab efforts to resolve the crisis in a step-for-step manner,” the communique read.
Notably, the statement also expressed support for the US military presence in Syria, which Washington says aims to ensure that ISIL (ISIS) does not reemerge, but which Damascus calls illegal.
“Ministers further condemned all actions that threaten the safety and security of these forces,” the statement read.
The US and the GCC also reasserted support for ensuring conditions for the “safe, dignified and voluntary return of refugees” to Syria and called for a nationwide ceasefire in the country.
Vague statement on Ukraine
The communique stressed territorial integrity and international law without explicitly condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“The Ministers reaffirmed the importance of respecting the principle of sovereignty and international law, including the UN Charter and the obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state,” the statement said.
Many Gulf states have taken a neutral approach to the conflict as Washington tried to unify its allies against Moscow.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed an Arab League summit in Jeddah last month and urged support for his country. But Thursday’s statement remained general, emphasising the Gulf states’ focus on the humanitarian, though not political, dimensions of the conflict.
“The Ministers urged all countries and the international community to intensify their efforts aimed at achieving a peaceful solution, ending the humanitarian crisis, and supporting refugees, displaced persons and others affected by the war in Ukraine, as well as facilitating the export of grain and other food supplies, and supporting food security in affected countries,” it said.