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Gulf states irked by exclusion from Iran nuclear dialogue

Arab countries of the Gulf eye with scepticism the Geneva talks between world powers and their neighbour Iran on its nuclear programme from which they feel unjustly excluded

AFP, Monday 6 Dec 2010
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Arab countries of the Gulf eye with scepticism the Geneva talks between world powers and their neighbour Iran on its nuclear programme from which they feel unjustly excluded.

Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan, whose country hosts a simultaneous Monday-Tuesday summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council, has openly criticised the West for excluding Iran's neighbours from the dialogue.

"Why do Western countries think that the Iranian issue concerns them alone?" Sheikh Abdullah asked at a security conference in Manama. "Any solution with Iran should come from the region, and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries should have a role in these negotiations," said the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Iran was holding talks on its controversial nuclear programme with five UN Security Council permanent members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- plus Germany.

The two-day talks in Geneva which kicked off on Monday, coinciding with the GCC's annual end-of-year summit, are the first after a 14-month break following Tehran's rejection of a proposed high-grade nuclear fuel exchange.

In Abu Dhabi, its six Gulf neighbours -- Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE -- gather to discuss their fears which were made public in several of US diplomatic cables published by the WikiLeaks website.

"A deal is being made between the Iranians and the Americans, but I am afraid it will come at the expense of the Gulf states." said Ibtisam al-Ketbi, a professor and analyst at UAE University.

"Westerners can accept an Iranian nuclear programme with strong guarantees from Tehran, even if this seems unacceptable to the Israelis who have a strong influence on Washington," she said.

But Saudi Arabia's former intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal dismissed the prospects of a breakthrough. "The Americans and the Iranians have not resolved their differences" and "there is a still gulf between the position of the US and Europe on the one hand and that of Iran," he said.

"What concerns GCC countries is that they be consulted and informed of the intentions of the United States and others," said Prince Turki.

In comments which Iran termed "a step forward," US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last week that Tehran could enrich uranium for civilian purposes once it has demonstrated it can do so in a responsible manner.

At the Manama conference which ended on Sunday, she told reporters that Washington's concerns over Tehran's nuclear ambitions were shared by the Islamic republic's Arab neighbours.

Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, however, rushed to address Arab fears by trying to reassure them at the same forum that Tehran would never use force against its fellow Muslims.

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