x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Morocco and Jordan ask to join GCC

Leaders of Gulf monarchies were meeting in Riyadh yesterday to discuss their tense relations with Iran, while considering requests by Morocco and Jordan to join the organisation.

RIYADH // Leaders of Gulf monarchies were meeting in Riyadh yesterday to discuss their tense relations with Iran, as Tehran announced it was sending an aid flotilla to Bahrain.

At the same time the GCC is considering requests by Morocco and Jordan to join itspolitical bloc, the group's secretary general said yesterday, in a move seen aimed at countering regional unrest.

GCC foreign ministers will hold talks with the foreign ministers of both non-Gulf countries to "complete required procedures", but it was unclear what kind of membership they were considering, Abdullatif al-Zayani told reporters after a GCC summit in Riyadh.

The Iranian flotilla will depart the southern port city of Bushehr on May 16, Mehdi Eghrarian, the head of the Islamic Revolution Supporters Society, said in Tehran yesterday.

The effort is part of Iran's condemnation of "crimes" against the Bahraini people by their government and that of neighbouring Saudi Arabia, the Fars news agency reported.

Relations between Iran and the Gulf Cooperation Council have deteriorated sharply, with the latter accusing Tehran of seeking to destabilise Arab governments in favour of popular unrest that has erupted in many Arab countries.

The GCC summit in the Saudi capital discussed "relations with Iran" and the Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi's recent tour of the region, a GCC official said, asking not to be named.

The GCC also "will discuss developments in Yemen and the GCC mediation, the situation in Libya and other Arab countries".

Iran has condemned Saudi Arabia's mid-March military intervention in Bahrain which was aimed at helping crack down on a Shiite-led uprising there.

Iran has said it gives "moral support" to Bahrainis but is not involved in the protests. Bahrain and Kuwait have expelled Iranian diplomats, accusing them of espionage.

The Saudi daily Al-Watan wrote in an editorial yesterday that GCC leaders must discuss "Iran's attempts to interfere in their internal affairs".The GCC summit is also expected to discuss its decision in March to create a development fund of US$20 billion (Dh73.4bn) to help Bahrain and Oman, both experiencing political unrest.

The GCC has trod softly over the unrest in Syria, but a delegation from the grouping recently travelled to meet with President Bashar al Assad.

Abdul Aziz al Sager, the director of the Gulf Research Centre, based in Dubai, said: "The GCC countries have not mediated, but may have offered advice to President Assad, stressing that security solution is not the only solution and that reforms are necessary."

Analysts said the unexpected announcement of the request by Morocco and Jordan to join the GCC may be a sign that Gulf leaders are seeking to cement ties with other monarchies against a wave of popular protests that have swept the Arab world.

"The GCC is increasing its more muscular role in foreign policy ... they are leading the counter revolution and it makes more sense for them to join with other Arab autocracies," said Shadi Hamid, director of the Brookings Doha Centre.

"Arab autocracies are trying to diversify aid sources away from the United States and other players that might be more concerned with their rights and democracy record," he said.

Hamid suggested they might be considering a two-tiered membership system. He and other observers suggested the partnership with the oil exporting region might be an economic boon to the two non-Gulf monarchies which have faced unrest in past few months.

Agence France-Presse and Reuters