ABU DHABI // The announcement by the Gulf Cooperation Council that it may expand to include Morocco and Jordan was welcomed by the two nations yesterday.
The GCC "welcomed the request by Jordan to join the group", its secretary general Abdel Latif al Zayyani said in Riyadh late on Tuesday. The GCC also invited Morocco's foreign minister to "finalise the necessary procedures for joining", he said.
It was not immediately clear when talks would begin to set the terms and the timetable for the membership of the two kingdoms.
The decision comes in a year when the GCC has emerged as an increasingly powerful and active coalition in international affairs.
It has taken a leading role in addressing the unrest that has gripped parts of North Africa and the Middle East. The union has tried to broker a deal to end the unrest in Yemen and has joined international action against Col Muammar Qaddafi's Libyan regime.
The GCC also deployed a security force of Saudi soldiers and UAE police to Bahrain in mid-March after riots gripped the kingdom. The official Bahrain News Agency reported yesterday that the force would stay beyond the June 1 lifting of a state of emergency.
The announcement of a proposed expansion of the six-member GCC to include two monarchies from different corners of the Arab world surprised many analysts.
But geographical differences aside, Morocco and Jordan are both seen as governments capable of weathering domestic unrest, with strong militaries and close ties with Gulf royal families. They are also monarchies, as are many Gulf states.
A larger coalition of Arab monarchies could also help to fill a power vacuum that has emerged in the region with the fall of Hosni Mubarak's regime in Egypt and the current instability in Syria. The GCC's recent leading role in the region is in contrast to the Arab League, the most high-profile regional organisation, which has shown signs of internal division and recently postponed a summit scheduled in Baghdad, apparently over differences on Bahrain.
Emile Hokayem, a Bahrain-based Middle East analyst for the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said a GCC expansion to include Jordan and Morocco would be about political union rather than economic integration.
"It's trying to create a new power centre in the region," he said. "It's about strategic depth and having reliable Sunni monarchies as allies.