Gulf Cooperation Council countries are set to begin talks on Morocco and Jordan joining the GCC to boost its political and military clout, a Bahraini envoy said on Thursday, in the face of a perceived growing Iranian threat.
The GCC, a loose bloc grouping Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain, said this week it would consider a request by the two Arab monarchies to join.
"The negotiations will start soon," Naser al-Belooshi, the Bahraini ambassador to France, told reporters in Paris.
"They have weight globally so that will help the GCC ... it will strengthen us at the negotiating table and militarily we will be stronger so it's an asset for us."
Analysts said ruling monarchs in the GCC appear to be seeking closer ties with counterparts outside the immediate Gulf region to help contain pro-democracy unrest that is buffeting autocratic ruling elites throughout the Arab world.
"They are well respected around the world as reasonable governments that are working for their people rather than for an ideology like Iran," Belooshi said.
He said the two countries also had similar capitalist economic models that complement the GCC, adding that their strong links with the United States and France could only benefit the world's largest oil exporting region.
Gulf leaders are concerned that Western allies could abandon them and back reforms if protests become widespread enough.
In Bahrain, where a Sunni Muslim royal family has long ruled over a Shi'ite majority, crushed weeks of street protests in March calling for greater political freedoms, a constitutional monarchy and an end to sectarian discrimination. The uprising cost the kingdom's economy about $2 billion, Belooshi said.
Neighbouring Sunni-led Gulf states sent into Bahrain to help suppress protests, in turn aggravating regional tension with nearby Shi'ite giant Iran, which Bahrain accused of stoking the unrest. Bahraini Shi'ites deny being steered by Iran.
Belooshi said Gulf forces would stay in his small island country until "there was no threat from our neighbours.
"Since the (Islamic) revolution Iran has become a theocratic state. Its hydrocarbons income is being used in part to export its revolution like it has in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and in Yemen and (it is) what it did in Bahrain and is attempting to do in Saudi Arabia," Belooshi said. "Bahrain will not be a pawn used to expand (Iran's) hegemony in the region.
"We have offered Iran the hand of peace ... (But) Iran is an aggressive nation (and) ... we can't have trust when, even though we allow it to invest in our countries, there is always a plot behind it."