GRM 2010 GRM 2011

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Historically, the relationship between the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has developed mainly within the framework of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), where it coincides with Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. Thus, bilateral links with these countries focused on the shared interest of a stable international oil market that guarantees reasonable prices for their oil exports, and Saudi Arabian – Venezuela cooperation played a key role in establishing OPEC and achieving its international prominence.

In this regard, it was precisely the need to strengthen OPEC in the face of a downward tendency for the international price of oil which led Venezuela to organize the II Summit of Heads of State of OPEC in Caracas during the year 2000, a successful event that led to an important increase in the level of bilateral cooperation with the GCC countries in OPEC, with the signing of several agreements and the first important exchange of Presidential and high-level visits with these states.

However, Venezuelan foreign policy under President Hugo Chávez Frías is constructed under a geopolitical vision that favour links with international powers and countries in the South that can contribute to foster a multipolar international system and counterbalance the global influence of the United States. As a result, while the bilateral relation with fellow OPEC member Iran experienced unprecedented levels of dynamism, inside the GCC only the relationship with Qatar gathered significant momentum.

Hence, while the membership in OPEC establishes a permanent level of interactions based on mutual, energy-related interests, the divergent geopolitical postures and foreign policy orientation of the CGG countries and Venezuela can be identified as the main obstacle that limits the possibility to further expand and consolidate bilateral links. This political divide between the South American country and the Arab monarchies of the Gulf has been dramatically exposed by the events of the “Arab Spring” and the Iranian nuclear impasse, with Venezuela providing strong political support to the Syrian and Iranian governments and greatly expanding bilateral cooperation, while at the same time the tensions and animosity between the Tehran – Damascus “axis” and the GCC increases to dangerous levels. The GCC countries involvement in the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, a Venezuelan ally, is another issue where stark political differences have been highlighted.

On the other hand, Venezuela and the GCC countries also belong to the South American – Arab Countries (ASPA) mechanism, a bi-regional initiative championed by Brazil that fosters closer political coordination and economic ties between the Arab world and its South American counterparts. While the level of Venezuelan involvement in ASPA does not equates its active role in OPEC, the interaction within this new South – South cooperation scheme highlights not only the political divide with the GCC, but also some areas where cooperation can still be developed even in the face of ideological divergences.

While the economies of the GCC and Venezuela do not have a strong potential for complementation, bilateral cooperation in the oil and gas sectors can be deepened, giving rise to the possibility that Venezuela and the CGG can expand their interaction from policy coordination within OPEC to concrete projects in the upstream and downstream activities of the energy industry. The expansion of the Venezuelan natural gas sector is an interesting area that could become the starting point for a reinvigorated relationship. Moreover, the Venezuelan economy could indeed benefit from an influx of investments from the sovereign funds of the GCC countries in OPEC and their private investors, in the case that a previous dialogue can identify areas where mutual benefits are possible.

Consequently, the geopolitical differences between the GCC and Venezuela are real and significant. However, the relationship with these countries will always be safeguarded because of the shared interests in OPEC, and there is the potential for cooperation to be upgraded to a broader strategic partnership in the energy sector and other areas of interest, if there is the will to develop a constructive dialogue focused on the bilateral agenda, enabling the establishment of strong ties that can withstand the differences that arise in the international arena.