x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Gulf leaders put Iran top of agenda

At the Gulf Co-Operation Council's summit in Abu Dhabi, Gulf leaders called for a peaceful resolution to the conflict over Iran's nuclear programme.

ABU DHABI // Gulf leaders began their annual gathering in the capital yesterday with a call for a peaceful resolution to the stand-off over Iran's nuclear programme.

Sheikh Khalifa, the President of the UAE, opened the 31st Gulf Co-operation Council summit as the region's leaders met in Emirates Palace for two days of talks.

During the initial session, the Gulf's leaders outlined their foreign policy agenda, amid rising concern over the region's security and stability.

Experts warn that the Gulf's security faces a range of threats including the rise of al Qa'eda in the Arabian Peninsula, internal threats to the regimes and the possibility of a military confrontation between the West and Iran over the latter's nuclear programme.

But the Gulf's leaders also saw reasons for optimism, praising Qatar's successful bid to host the World Cup in 2022 as a cause of celebration for the entire Gulf and a reflection of the "modernist" values of its leaders.

After Sheikh Khalifa formally opened the session, Sheikh Sabah al Ahmad al Jaber, the emir of Kuwait, delivered an address outlining the Gulf's foreign policy concerns.

In a nod towards nations who were tackling internal security threats, he praised Saudi Arabia's arrests of terrorists aiming to "kill innocents" and "roll back development".

Saudi Arabia's interior ministry announced on Friday the arrest of 149 suspected al Qa'eda members, who were accused of plotting terrorist attacks.

Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, the interior minister, represented Saudi Arabia in the session.

Abdul Rahman al Attiyah, the GCC's outgoing secretary general, also praised Bahrain's elections as successful and representative, despite arrests ahead of the elections that the government said were prompted after it uncovered suspected terrorist plots.

The GCC voiced its disapproval of terrorism, saying it would "stand with the international community in fighting terrorism".

The Gulf countries are increasingly concerned at the proliferation of al Qa'eda in the peninsula, with fears heightened after bombs were found in cargo sent from Yemen en route to the US in Dubai and London airports.

Sheikh Sabah also reiterated the GCC's call for Iran to negotiate directly with the UAE over its occupation of the UAE's three islands of Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs, or to seek international arbitration to resolve the dispute, saying Iran should engage in "dialogue" to resolve the dispute.

Iran has repeatedly ignored such goals by the UAE and the Gulf in a range of international arenas.

Sheikh Sabah renewed the GCC's call for a peaceful resolution to the stand-off between the West and Iran over the country's nuclear programme, which some western countries believe is aimed at developing a weapon. He said it was necessary to "resolve the crisis of the Iranian nuclear file in a peaceful way" for the security and stability of the region.

The GCC's insistence on a peaceful resolution was significant because it came shortly after the release of leaked diplomatic cables from US embassies by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks.

The cables showed rising concern over Iran's nuclear programme and the weighing up of the effects of a military strike by the West on Iranian nuclear facilities. Gulf officials have publicly distanced themselves from the leaks, saying they represent an American view of the region.

Sheikh Sabah criticised Israeli "stubbornness", which he said resulted in the stalling of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Direct negotiations have been stalled as Israel has so far refused to extend a moratorium on settlement construction that expired in September. The GCC said the only possible solution involved setting up a Palestinian state, and called on the US to pressure Israel to halt the settlements, calling it the "caretaker" of the peace process.

Sheikh Sabah expressed the GCC's hope that a new Iraqi government would be created soon, and congratulated Iraq's president and prime minister. Iraq has been without a government since inconclusive elections in March, leaving a power vacuum. A power-sharing agreement is being worked out that will see the prime minister, Nouri al Maliki, form a new government.

The GCC also called for stability in Lebanon, where worries that a special tribunal investigating the assassination of the former prime minister, Rafiq Hariri, could fuel unrest if it identifies key members of Hizbollah as complicit in the murder.