AFP: Leaders of the six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) were to meet on Sunday in Abu Dhabi amid calls on neighbouring Iran to help keep the region nuclear-free. by Hassen Fakih
ABU DHABI, Dec 18 (AFP) – Leaders of the six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) were to meet on Sunday in Abu Dhabi amid calls on neighbouring Iran to help keep the region nuclear-free.
GCC secretary general Abdulrahman al-Attiyah urged Iran ahead of the two-day summit, taking place almost 25 years after the regional alliance was set up, to join the grouping in a pledge to keep the region free of nucleur weapons.
All heads of GCC member states, which include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, in addition to the United Arab Emirates, have arrived in Abu Dhabi, except for the ailing emir of Kuwait Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah, who is being represented by Prime Minister Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah.
“It is necessary to reach an agreement between the GCC, Iran, Iraq and other countries like Yemen to make the Gulf region free from weapons of mass destruction and nuclear arms,” Attiyah said late on Saturday after a meeting of GCC foreign ministers in Abu Dhabi.
Iran is accused by Israel and the United States of using its civilian nuclear program to cover a weapons programme, something Tehran strongly denies.
Attiyah, a native of Qatar, said such an agreement, if concluded, could be later expanded to include Israel and other powers in the region.
He said he was extending the invitation to Gulf neighbour Iran in his “own name” and not that of his organisation.
“We do not want to see a nuclear race in the region. Iran’s reactors are closer to our coast than to Tehran itself,” he said.
Iran agreed to suspend sensitive uranium enrichment activities in November 2004 under an agreement with Britain, France and Germany, but resumed its fuel-cycle work last August after rejecting a new offer from the European powers.
Israel itself is believed to be the only nuclear power in the Middle East, although it has never admitted to having nuclear weapons.
GCC leaders were also expected to urge Iran to negotiate an agreement with the UAE over their longstanding territorial conflict over three islands in the Gulf, or refer the case to the International Court of Justice, said Attiyah.
He did not hide the GCC wariness of Iran’s influence in war-torn Iraq, whose population has a Shiite majority like Iran’s.
“We in the GCC support the territorial integrity of Iraq and (want) no interference in its internal affairs … especially from a known neighbour,” Attiyah told AFP, referring to Iran.
The heads of states were to also discuss progress in creating a common market, which is now expected to be formed in 2007, and a monetary union which is to be formed in 2010.
Although GCC states have already agreed on several key criteria to bring their economic and fiscal policies closer and also approved setting up a central bank for the group ahead of monetary union, they are accused of moving too slowly in implementing the measures.
The UAE’s Vice President and Prime Minister Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid al-Maktoum said that despite the delays the GCC was committed to an integrated market.
That has been one of the main conditions of the European Union to conclude a long-stalled free trade deal with the bloc.
“The process will not stop. It may be slow at times, but this does not mean we will stop before achieving our goals,” said Sheikh Maktoum, who is also ruler of Dubai.
Besides the delays in creating one market, GCC states have been slow in implementing a shared defence strategy, with members now likely to scrap a 5,000-strong military force called the “Peninsula Shield”, according to an official attending the Abu Dhabi meeting.
Member states are instead likely to focus on sharing intelligence and conducting joint military exercises, said the official, who did not wish to be identified.
The joint military force was created in 1986 at the peak of the Iran-Iraq war but proved ineffective in defending Kuwait against the Iraqi invasion in 1990.
Another thorny issue which the GCC will postpone tackling is a proposal made in September to limit the stay of expatriate labourers in countries of the region to six years.
Attiyah said ministers decided Saturday that the issue needed further study.
Nearly 12 million foreigners, most of them Asian labourers, work in Gulf countries, which are seeking to make their nationals take over many of the upper-level jobs done by expatriates.