Gulf Arab countries to discuss unity in September

Reuters , Sunday 5 Aug 2012

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah suggestion that Gulf countries 'move to the stage of unity' will be taken up in the September GCC meeting, announces the secretary general

The foreign ministers of six Gulf Arab countries will meet in September to discuss a plan for closer integration of the mostly Sunni Muslim monarchies, Saudi Arabia's English-language Arab News reported on Sunday.

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah proposed last December that the Gulf Cooperation Council, which also includes Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Oman, should move "to the stage of unity in a single entity" in response to uprisings in the Arab world and the perceived threat from Iran.

"The initiative to move to a Gulf union will be discussed by the GCC foreign ministers when they convene next month," said Abdulatif Al-Zayani, the group's secretary general, in comments carried by Arab News.

He added that a commission set up in December to investigate the plan had finished its work, which had been submitted to the countries' foreign ministers.

In the lead-up to a summit in May this year, some Gulf officials had said they expected an announcement at the meeting of some form of closer union, possibly involving only Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. But the group delayed any decision to future meetings.

Speaking after the summit, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal said any move towards union would include all the countries and that integration of only Saudi Arabia and Bahrain was not on the table.

Of the six countries, only Bahrain was hit by major unrest during the Arab uprisings last year, as its Shi'ite Muslim majority rebelled against the Sunni government in a wave of protests that has continued into 2012.

There were also some protests in Oman, prompting a cabinet reshuffle and extra social spending by the government.

Saudi Arabia, the largest of the six countries by size, population and economy, largely escaped the turmoil, although there have been persistent protests among members of its Shi'ite minority.

The GCC countries have accused regional Shi'ite power Iran of instigating the unrest among members of the sect in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, charges that both Tehran and the protesters have denied.

Tensions with Iran have intensified as it and the GCC countries have backed different sides in the violent rebellion roiling Syria.

Speaking on April 28, Prince Saud said the GCC countries should integrate their foreign and military policy to present a more united front.

But when leaders of the countries met in May, differences emerged over how to move forward, Gulf officials and analysts said at the time.

Zayani said a lot of differences had now been resolved, Arab News reported. It did not elaborate.

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