GCC-Iran Foreign Relations

Flag of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Available at Wikimedia Commons)

In 1981, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) formed the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in response to regional security concerns, including the emergence of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its expressed intent to export its revolution abroad, and to promote free trade between member states. In 1982, the GCC formed “Peninsula Shield Force” (PSF) as a defensive and offensive pan-Gulf military force. The PSF held its first training exercises in 1983 in the UAE, and later participated in the Persian Gulf War in 1991 and deployed again to Kuwait in advance of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Current PSF troop levels number at approximately 50,000 but in July 2011 the GCC approved a proposal to double PSF troop levels by the end of 2012.[1]

Relations between Iran and the GCC have historically been strained by Iran’s efforts to export the Islamic revolution to GCC member states during the 1980s, including Iran’s 1981 coup attempt in Bahrain[2] and regular incitement of Saudi Arabia’s Shi’ite minority during the annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.[3] As of late, relations have been further strained as a result of the 2011 uprising by Shi’ites in Bahrain. The GCC alleges that Iran has been interfering in Bahrain’s internal affairs by supporting protestors. The GCC subsequently deployed PSF troops to Bahrain to suppress the unrest and counter the Iranian threat. Iranian and GCC officials have publicly condemned one another’s actions regarding this matter and, consequently, relations have deteriorated. The GCC called on Iran in April 2011 “to play a constructive role in the region and to cease interfering in the internal affairs of GCC Member States and other countries in the region.”[4]

The GCC has been supportive of Iran’s right to operate a peaceful nuclear program but has been vocally opposed to Iran producing nuclear weapons. The GCC Secretary General has consistently called for a peaceful resolution to the diplomatic conflict between Iran and the international community. GCC member states often warn of the threat posed to the region’s security were Iran to weaponize its nuclear program.

Iran and the GCC began negotiating a free trade agreement in 2008 but negotiations have been stalled by various diplomatic quarrels since that time – including the ongoing dispute over the islands of Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs, and Iran’s incitement of Shi’ite protestors in Bahrain. As a result, to date, a complete agreement has not been forthcoming.



April 11, 2011: The GCC and EU issued a joint statement calling for Iran to “fully comply with the resolutions adopted by the UNSC and IAEA.”[5]

December 8, 2010: The United Arab Emirates’ foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, during a press conference with GCC Secretary Abdul Rahman al Atiyyah, emphasized that “We in the GCC always uphold Iran's right to have a peaceful nuclear programme.”[6] He added, “We come from a society and background of optimism and hope. We hope that the parties, with the goodwill of all of them including Iran, will end this conflict, for the prosperity and development of this part of the world.”[7]

July 16, 2010: GCC Secretary General, Abd-al-Rahman al-Attiyah, urged Iran to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency and to “respond to legitimate international resolutions.”[8] Al-Attiyah affirmed, “We do not wish for a confrontation and we reject any military option. We ask that Iran responds to and cooperates with legitimate international resolutions and the IAEA in order to resolve the current problems and to respond in a completely transparent way regarding its nuclear program. In the end, this cooperation will serve the interest of Iran and the region as a whole.”[9]



January 19, 2011: Iran’s Trade Promotion Organization reported a 25 percent growth in exports to GCC countries in the first quarter of 2011.[10]

September 11, 2008: The Gulf Cooperation Council accepted an offer from Tehran to begin negotiations on a free trade agreement. According to Khalaf Al Manai, Qatari Finance Ministry Undersecretary, "the [GCC] undersecretaries agreed on starting the first official round of negotiations on an FTA with Iran."[11]

September 1, 2007: Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki wrote an official letter to the GCC stating Iran’s desire to negotiate the creation of a free trade area with all Arab countries.[12]



July 18, 2011: The GCC delivered an official letter of protest to Iran’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Mohammad Jawad Rasouli, regarding statements about recent unrest in Bahrain made by chairman of Iran’s Guardian Council Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati during Friday prayers in Tehran.[13] Jannati harshly criticized the intervention of GCC military forces in Bahrain.[14] The GCC characterized Jannati’s words as “false” and “provocative,” and an unwelcome interference in Bahraini domestic affairs.[15] Iran rejected the letter on July 21 and deemed its contents “unacceptable.”[16] The full contents of the letter were not disclosed.

July 12, 2011: GCC Secretary General, Abdullatif al Zayani, publicly condemned Iran’s interference in Bahrain’s internal affairs. In a statement published by the Bahrain News Agency, Al Zayani stated, “(This is) blatant interference in the kingdom's domestic affairs and a violation of diplomatic norms and the principles of good neighborliness.”[17] He also called on Iran to “meet the Iranian people's demands of freedom and dignity and stop the Iranian media from sowing dissention and sectarian conflicts.”[18]

July 2, 2011: The six GCC member states unanimously approved an internal proposal to bolster their combined military force, the Peninsula Shield. The proposal would increase it troop levels from 50,000 to 100,000 by the end of 2012. Security, defense and intelligence advisor, Dr. Sami Alfaraj, stated that the decision was made in order to counter a growing threat from Iran “and its subversive terrorist elements across the GCC.”[19]

April 18, 2011: Bahrain’s foreign minister announced that GCC troops would remain deployed in Bahrain until Iran no longer remains a threat to Gulf countries.[20]

April 25, 2011: Iranian MP, Nasrollah Torabi, refuted allegations made by the GCC that Iran was interfering in the affairs of GCC member countries. In response to the allegations the MP stated, “The Persian Gulf Cooperation Council has tried to portray the differences and the conflict in Bahrain as a sectarian strife and introduced Iran as a terrorist country that interferes in the other country's affairs and has filed a complaint against Iran in the international circles in a bid to divert the public opinion…. Iran's role in these disputes is (limited to) confrontation with a government that doesn't respect others' rights.”[21]

March 15, 2011: Ramin Mehmanparast, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, issued a statement objecting to the GCC’s troop deployment to Bahrain. The spokesman described the presence of GCC forces as “unacceptable” and claimed they “will further complicate the issue.”[22]

March 2011: GCC deployed approximately 1,500 troops led by Saudi security forces to help quell demonstrations in Bahrain. Qatar and the U.A.E. also pledged to commit troops. The troop deployment comes after a meeting of GCC ministers in which a statement was issued blasting Iran’s “flagrant interference” and “violating the sovereignty” of Bahrain.[23]

January 19, 2010: Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki remarked on Iran’s desire to maintain cordial relations with Saudi Arabia: “Iran considers expanding relations with all the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council members including Saudi Arabia as a foreign policy priority.”[24]

September 3, 2008: The GCC reprimanded Iran for opening offices on the disputed Tunb Islands, issuing a statement that, “The ministerial council condemns Iran's establishment of two administrative offices on Abu Musa island that belongs to the UAE and demands that Iran remove these illegal installations and respect the UAE's sovereignty on its land.” [25] The disputed islands are claimed by both Iran and the United Arab Emirates.

December 3, 2007: Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad approached the GCC with proposals for a security agreement between Iran and GCC member states. Speaking at a GCC Summit in Qatar, Ahmadinejad stated, “We want peace and security... based on justice and without foreign intervention."[26]

[1] “Defensive Shield for the Gulf Since 1982,” The National, March 16, 2011, (accessed July 18, 2011)
[2] “Background Note: Bahrain,” U.S. Department of State, July 8, 2011, (accessed July 18, 2011)
[3] “Iran’s Rivalry with Saudi Arabia Between the Gulf Wars,” Middle East Quarterly, May 1, 2007, (accessed July 18, 2011)
[4] “21st EU-GCC Joint Council and Ministerial Meeting Abu Dhabi, 20 April 2011,” The Gulf Cooperation Council, April 20, 2011, (accessed May 27, 2011)
[5] “21st EU-GCC Joint Council and Ministerial Meeting Abu Dhabi, 20 April 2011,” The Gulf Cooperation Council, April 20, 201, (accessed May 27, 2011)
[6] “Sheikh Abdullah calls for end to Iran stand-off,” The National, December 8, 2010, (accessed July 22, 2011)
[7] “Sheikh Abdullah calls for end to Iran stand-off,” The National, December 8, 2010, (accessed July 22, 2011)
[8] “Al-Attiyah to Al-Hayah: Gulf Countries are Qualified To Enter Union, Welcomes Turkey’s Role, Rejects Option of Confrontation in Region,” Al-Hayah Online (via World News Connection), July 16, 2010.
[9] “Al-Attiyah to Al-Hayah: Gulf Countries are Qualified To Enter Union, Welcomes Turkey’s Role, Rejects Option of Confrontation in Region,” Al-Hayah Online (via World News Connection), July 16, 2010.
[10] “The Growth of Exports to the Gulf Cooperation Council,” Donya-ye Eqtesad online (via World News Connection), January 19, 2011.
[11] “Gulf States Set To Start FTA Talks With Iran,” Emirates Business 247, September 11, 2008
[12] “GCC Considers Free Trade with Iran,” Arabian Business, September 1, 2007, 
[13] “GCC countries shun Iran statements,” Bahrain News Agency, July 18, 2011 (accessed July 21, 2011)
[14] “Ayatollah Jannati: U.S., Zionist regime support terrorism,” IRIB, July 8,201
[15] “GCC States reject the ‘provocative’ Iranian statement towards Bahrain,” Ahram Online, July 18, 2011, (accessed July 21, 2011)
[16] “Iran rejects PGCC Secretary-General’s Letter on Bahrain,” Fars News, July 21, 2011, (accessed July 21, 2011)
[17] “Iran Warned,” Gulf Daily News, July 12, 2011. (accessed July 13, 2011)
[18] “Iran Warned,” Gulf Daily News, July 12, 2011. (accessed July 13, 2011)
[19] “The GCC is expanding its army, but for what?,” Al Jazeera English, July 2, 2011. (accessed July 13, 2011).
[20] “GCC troops to stay in Bahrain until Iranian threat is over,”, April 18, 2011. (accessed July 13, 2011).
[21] “MP: PGCC Seeking to Divert Public Opinion from Realities of Bahrain,” Fars News, April 25, 2011. (accessed July 13, 2011)
[22] “Iran objects to foreign troops in Bahrain,” Reuters, March 15, 2011. (accessed July 13, 2011)
[23] “Standing Up to Iran: Gulf Alliance Flexes Its Muscles,” Time, April 6, 2011.,8599,2063502,00.html (accessed July 13, 2011)
[24] “Mottaki Calls Iran, S. Arabia Two Key Islamic Countries in Islamic World,” Tehran Times, January 19, 2010, (accessed January 25, 2010);
[25] “Iran’s island offices condemned,” BBC News, September 3, 2008. (accessed July 13, 2011)
[26] “Iran Proposes Gulf Security Pact,” BBC News, December 3, 2007,  (accessed December 7, 2009)