Gulf Arabs back unity after hinting at Iran threat

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 20, 2011 9:19 AM
Gulf Arabs back unity after hinting at Iran threat

By Angus McDowall

RIYADH (Reuters) - Gulf Arab leaders on Tuesday endorsed Saudi King Abdullah's call to form a "single entity" after hinting at Iranian threats, and demanded Syria immediately implement an Arab peace plan to defuse months of violence over anti-government protests.

The foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, which dominates the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), said Syria must embrace all of the Arab league plan it has signed, which calls for pulling troops from population centers, releasing prisoners and dialogue with opposition forces.

"If the intentions are pure, these steps must be taken immediately," Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said in response to a question about Syria's signing of the plan from the Arab League, which has also imposed sanctions on Damascus.

His remarks came as the energy-exporting six-member GCC concluded its highest-level meeting since a wave of protests swept the Arab world earlier this year, and pledged closer military and security integration in a final statement read out on Saudi state television.

But the statement made no specific reference to non-Arab Iran, which Gulf leaders have accused of fomenting unrest in Bahrain in the wave of mass uprisings that have redrawn the political landscape of the Middle East.

Gulf leaders agreed on "...adopting king Abdullah's suggestion of moving from cooperation to unity that would support our people overcome the challenges faced by the GCC," the statement said.

King Abdullah on Monday said the security of Saudi Arabia and its Arab neighbors was being targeted, in an apparent reference to regional rival Iran, and called on Gulf Arab states to "move beyond the stage of cooperation and into the stage of unity in a single entity."

PERCEIVED THREAT

He did not expand on the remarks, which drew applause from the hall where officials of GCC member states were sitting, but analysts said they were probably aimed at a perceived threat from Iran and the Arab uprisings.

The GCC members concluded their two-day meeting with a pledge to study and report back on the idea by March, without specifying any concrete steps that might be taken.

Analysts and officials said the idea of greater union in the GCC, which has seen little progress toward that goal expressed in its 1981 founding charter, had been discussed informally among members given concerns about the regional situation.

Proposals for a customs union, single currency and shared military command have not been realized, although the countries did form a small joint armed force that sent troops to Bahrain in February at the request of the island state's rulers.

Earlier this year, the Gulf Arab states said Morocco and Jordan, the two other Arab monarchies, might join the group. However, there has been no further announcement.

Tensions have risen sharply between the two leading Gulf powers, Shi'ite Muslim Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia in recent months after the Arab uprisings tilted the power balance in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia had long suspected Iran of harboring expansionist ambitions in the region after the emergence of a Shi'ite government in Iraq, and suspects it of attempting to develop a nuclear bomb.

It has also pointed to accusations by the United States that Iran backed a plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador in Washington as proof of Iran's intent to destabilize the region.

(Writing by Sami Aboudi, editing by Joseph Logan)


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