x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

GCC tells Iran to 'stop meddling in our affairs'

Gulf states warn Ahmadinejad government against trying to 'instigate sectarian strife' as Riyadh offers talks to improve relations.

The Gulf Cooperation Council called on Iran yesterday to stop meddling in the internal affairs of its six member states.

"Stop these policies and practices … and stop interfering in the internal affairs" of the Gulf nations, said a statement released at the end of the two-day GCC annual summit in Riyadh, the first since the start of the Arab Spring.

The regional bloc also warned the Shiite-led government in Tehran against attempts to "instigate sectarian strife".

While leading the GCC's demands that the government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad conduct a more responsible foreign policy, Saudi Arabia also sounded a conciliatory note.

Its foreign minister, Prince Saud Al Faisal, said Riyadh was prepared to negotiate with Iran to improve relations, which took a sharp downturn this year when the kingdom sent security forces to Bahrain during protests there.

Capping the most activist year in the GCC's 30-year history, it also urged the government of the Syrian president Bashar Al Assad in unusually stark terms to end its crackdown on pro-reform protests that started in March and appear now to have given rise to a full-blown insurgency.

It said Syria should "immediately halt its killing machine, put an end to bloodshed, lift all signs of armed conflict and release prisoners, as a first step towards implementing" the Arab League peace deal that its deputy foreign minister signed in Cairo on Monday.

"If there is goodwill when the protocol was signed then these steps must be immediately taken in order to implement the remaining steps of the protocol," Prince Faisal told reporters.

Seeking closer ties with Arab kingdoms outside the Gulf amid the upheavals across the region this year, the GCC decided to set up a $5 billion (Dh18.35 billion) fund to help development projects in Jordan and Morocco, which are seeking membership.

"The higher council agreed to set up a Gulf development fund, which starts with offering support for development projects in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the Kingdom of Morocco, to the value of $2.5 billion each," said the closing statement issued yesterday.

The GCC - the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia - proposed in May that both Jordan and Morocco join, and said in September it planned to fund a five-year development aid programme for Morocco and Jordan.

Addressing a long-running dispute, the organisation expressed support for a Kuwaiti port project opposed by Iraq and urged Baghdad to step up its efforts to normalise ties with its neighbour. GCC members "support Kuwait concerning the Mubarak Al Kabir port since it will be built on Kuwaiti land and within its territorial waters", the statement said.

Baghdad says the seaport, once completed, would strangle its shipping lanes in the narrow Khor Abdullah waterway that serves as its entrance to the Gulf, through which the vast majority of its oil exports flow. Kuwait insists the port will not affect Iraq.

Khor Abdullah is a narrow waterway that separates Iraqi and Kuwaiti shores off Bubiyan Island where the megaport is being built, and leads to Umm Qasr and other smaller ports in Iraq.

The United Nations Security Council called on Iraq ast week to step up efforts to normalise ties with neighbouring Kuwait, still recovering from the Saddam Hussein-era invasion in 1990.

The UAE delegation to the summit, led by the Vice President and Prime Minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Ruler of Dubai, returned to the UAE yesterday.

* Compiled from reports by Reuters and Agence France-Presse