GCC Summit begins in Bahrain with UK PM in attendance, Turkish PM meets Putin in Moscow and Venezuelan government and opposition resume talks
GULF COOPERATION COUNCIL SUMMIT
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Summit will begin in Bahrain on Tuesday. The GCC – which is composed of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, and the UAE – seeks to strengthen policy coordination, with the ultimate aim of creating a ‘Gulf Union’ similar to the EU.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May will attend the summit, becoming the first ever female leader to do so. May will hold bilateral meetings with individual leaders before an official dinner on Tuesday night. She is expected to address the gathering on Wednesday to highlight security and investment ties.
With the exception of Oman, GCC countries are unified by their opposition to Iran’s growing regional influence. Closed-door talks will focus on how to bring the conflicts in Syria and Yemen to an end while preventing Iran from maintaining a foothold in either country.
The Gulf monarchies are also experiencing varying degrees of economic difficulties due to falling oil revenue. The introduction of a GCC-wide 5% sales tax may be discussed, but implementation is not expected until at least 2018.
TURKISH PM MEETS VLADIMIR PUTIN
Turkey’s prime minister, Binali Yildirim, will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Tuesday. Talks are expected to focus on enhancing trade ties, as well as the war in Syria. This summit – which follows earlier meetings between agriculture ministers on Nov. 18 and foreign ministers on Dec. 1 – represents a continuation of warming of ties.
Russian-imposed economic sanctions will top the agenda. While Moscow has begun to lift some of these measures – imposed when Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet in late 2015 – progress has been slow. Russian officials have indicated they will continue to ban selected Turkish products for another two to three years. Despite this, in August both countries committed to hitting a bilateral trade target of $100 billion by 2023, which would represent a fourfold jump.
Once a serious obstacle, Ankara and Moscow’s conflicting positions in Syria now seem to have softened slightly. Both agree on the need for a ceasefire, as well as increased humanitarian aid. However, challenges to a potential ceasefire remain; the two sides disagree over Bashar al-Assad’s future and on which rebel groups are ‘moderate’.
VENEZUELAN POLITICAL NEGOTIATIONS SET TO RESUME
Tuesday marks a new round of negotiations between the Venezuelan opposition and government. Vatican-brokered talks between the two lapsed last week after government officials allegedly failed to turn up. President Nicolas Maduro denies these allegations.
The opposition is expected to leverage Venezuela’s recent human rights-related suspension from Mercosur, a regional trade bloc, to heap pressure on Maduro. Since 2014, more than 6500 prisoners have been detained for politically-motivated reasons.
Alternatively, the opposition may abandon the negotiations altogether, renew mass demonstrations and push to restart the suspended process to hold a presidential recall referendum. However, even if this process was restarted, there is no chance a vote will be held before January 2017 – after this date Maduro’s United Socialists will be able to swap out their embattled leader with another party cadre and cling onto power until fresh elections in 2019.
Providing a glimmer of hope, last week three opposition MPs resigned, honouring a deal signed between the two sides on Nov 11. The major unanswered question is whether the government is genuine about its desire to reach a compromise, or whether it’s simply stalling for time.