On March 8, 2017, Dean Nabil Fahmy traveled to Sulaimani, Iraqi Kurdistan, to participate in a three-day event, known as the Fifth Annual Sulaimani Forum, and organized by the Institute of Regional and International Studies (IRIS) at the American University of Iraq Sulaimani.
Addressing the attendees, Dean Fahmy examined the possible direction the new American administration’s foreign policy would take, especially with regards to the Middle East. He cautioned against making grand statements about American foreign policy due to the unpredictability and the sporadic nature of Trump. However, he proceeded to offer the audience some of his predictions.
He predicted more cooperation with Russia especially in the terms of pursuing a more coordinated counter-terrorism strategy in the Middle East. Although, Dean Fahmy pointed out that the American political elite is divided over their stance on Russia, he reminded those present that there are clear disagreements within the administration regarding how to approach Russia. For instance, the president and his advisers seem to support rapprochement but the Pentagon still considers Russia as a foe. However, he predicted warmer relations than during the Obama years.
All in all, Dean Fahmy suspected that Trump would take a more proactive stance militarily against terrorism, especially against ISIS. He expects the Trump administration to work closer with Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates in terms of strengthening security and countering the spread of terrorism.
Discussing Trump administration’s approach to Iran, Dean Fahmy predicted that the new administration will seek to curtail Iran’s regional adventurism and cooperate with GCC countries but will not withdraw from JCPOA. According to him, withdrawing from JCPOA would be at odds with the other P5+1 powers and the European Union who are also signatories to the treaty.
Dean Fahmy considers it unlikely that the Trump administration would put pressure on Israel to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians. In addition, he noted that the current conservative Israeli government would most likely block any viable initiatives.
Dean Fahmy advised against any efforts to normalize Arab-Israeli relationship before the problematic Israeli occupation of Arab lands would be seriously addressed and the expansion of Israeli settlements curtailed. He also cautioned against moving the American embassy to Jerusalem and warned that such move would cause more violence and turmoil in the already fragile region. He expressed his worry over the new pro-Israeli American ambassador who declared that he would work from Jerusalem whether the embassy is moved or not.
Dean Fahmy emphasized that before Arabs can think about the best way to approach Trump, they should place more serious effort on exponentially increasing dialogue and cooperation regionally, especially in light of Turkey, Israel and Iran’s more aggressive regional policies. He pointed out that the three are currently reaping all the benefits from trade and development and are enjoying a bigger role in regional affairs than Arabs.
He argued that the best way to communicate with Trump while preserving Arab interests is to strengthen the backbones of Arab countries’ security, nationally and regionally, through better cooperation and coordination. Dean Fahmy emphasized the need for a more coherent Arab voice echoing from the region. He reminded that with the new administration the Arab world has an opportunity to take charge of their region and set the parameters for American and Russian military and security policy in the Middle East.