Security talks top GCC agenda

Ahram Online, Monday 6 Dec 2010

The Gulf Cooperation Council opens its 31st summit in Abu Dhabi with a special focus on regional security issues

(AP)Shaikh Mohammad, Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz, Bahraini King Hamad Bin Eisa Al Khalifa, Kuwaiti Emir Shaikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, Qatari Emir Shaikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani and Omani Deputy Prime Minister Fahd Bin Mahmoud Al Saeed at the Gulf Cooperation Council Consultative Summit in Riyadh May 2010(AP).

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) will hold its 31stannual summit in the United Arab Emirates Monday with security concerns at the top of the agenda.

The summit which aims to discuss ways of enhancing cooperation between council members has recently been criticised for becoming a mere formality. But, the current agenda signals a departure from its historical tendency to focus on economic issues, as political and security concerns are this years’ primary theme.

"The security threat agenda for the GCC conference this year is stocked with many problems for the leadership to deal with," The National quoted Riad Kahwaji, the chief executive of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, as saying.

'Look at the key neighbours in the Gulf, you have ongoing problems in Yemen, ongoing problems in Iraq and potentially major problems from the east if the Iran situation were to escalate," Kahwaji explained.

The GCC was set up by an agreement concluded on 25 May 1981 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia among Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE. The council brought the latter countries together based on their unique ties, geographic proximity, similar political systems based on Islamic principle and common political and strategic objectives.

“The council members play a significant role in supporting Arab causes”, the council’s secretary general Abdulrahman Al-Atteya told the London-based Al Hayat daily. “For example, there’s the Taif and Doha accords that support Lebanese conciliation.” He added that the Qatari role in Darfur and the Saudi initiative in Iraq illustrate the Gulf's pioneering role in reacting to regional conflicts.

 Al-Atteya said that the Saudi King’s initiative in Iraq, to promote the formation of a new government, will be the focus of the summit. Furthermore, as reported in the Asharq Al-Awsat daily, the long-standing territorial dispute between the UAE and Iran over three islands in the Persian Gulf, and the latter’s nuclear program are, as usual, at the top of the agenda.

The summit will also prioritise developments in the Palestinian affair as well as in Iraq, Lebanon and Sudan. 

Al-Atteya emphasised that the council's members aim to establish a united front that would reflect a single society’s stance on various issues affecting the region.

For example, the council has mounted a joint effort to resolve the dispute surrounding the UAE islands which Iran has occupied for years. The members support the UAE’s sovereign right to the three Islands and call for Iran to either hold direct negotiations or resort to the International Justice Council.

"Any solution with Iran should come from the region, and the [GCC] countries should have a role in these negotiations," said the foreign minister of the UAE in a security forum in Manama earlier this week, as quoted in AFP.

The GCC hopes that Iran and the west can find a peaceful resolution with regards to the nuclear programme, maintaining that states have the right to develop peaceful nuclear capabilities.  

Gulf leaders are also expected to discuss the growing Al-Qaeda presence in Yemen and the group’s affiliates’ infiltration of Saudi Arabia.

Yemen's security situation was brought into sharp focus in October of this year when bombs were discovered in the Dubai and London airports in cargo planes flown from Yemen en-route to the US.

Mohamed bin Huwaidin, an associate professor of political science at UAE University, observed that the rise and proliferation of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and the risk posed to Yemen's neighbours, through terror attacks and recruitment of extremists, represented primary threats facing the Gulf countries.

'Yemen is very important because of its proximity and the presence, growth and proliferation of Al-Qaeda,' he said, adding: 'There are many challenges across the Gulf region...The primary one, I would say, is the terrorists.'

Summit delegates are also expected to touch on the notion of unified currency, which was agreed upon a year ago but has seen little progress since.

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