So the Arab states are worried about the prospects of a nuclear Iran. I don’t doubt that some of those worries are genuine (see the marked growth in U.S. arms sales to the Gulf states in recent years, for instance) but as the Brookings Institution’s Suzanne Maloney noted in a July 2009 Senate Finance Committee hearing,
I recognize that the Gulf states spend a lot of time talking about the Iranian threat; they don’t spend a lot of time doing anything about it….[T]hey’ve been very averse to doing anything that would curtail their business relationships with Iran and their political relationships, both of which are quite substantial. So I will take that rhetoric much more seriously when I see them behaving in a way that suggests that they believe that threat is as real as they say.
Take, for example, the pending U.S.-U.A.E. civilian nuclear cooperation agreement. Opposition to the agreement has hinged in part on concerns about the U.A.E.’s export controls, as the U.A.E. has served as an alleged transit point for military and dual-use exports to Iran. Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Kahn used the U.A.E. as a transit point to illegally transfer uranium and other sensitive materials to Libya and Iran in the 1990’s. The U.A.E. claims that it has enacted a stronger national export control law, though according to a July 2009 Congressional Research Service report, “the government had yet to issue implementing regulations for the law or to fully staff a national export control body to enforce it.” The U.A.E. ambassador to the U.S. characterized the law as a “work in progress” during a June 2009 briefing.
Likewise, one of the key problems with the growing calls emanating from Congress for tougher sanctions on Iran’s gas and petroleum sector is that their success will hinge upon the support of key actors such as Russia, China, and yes, the U.A.E. But would the U.A.E. support sanctions on firms and states that export gasoline to Iran or help it refine oil, given that roughly $12 billion in foreign goods destined for Iran pass through Dubai, including nearly all of Iran’s refined petroleum imports? Doing so would require the U.A.E. to breach the fine line it appears to be trying to walk between maintaining its close economic/political relations with Tehran and expressing its worries about a nuclear Iran.