December 17, 2005

Iran, Syria standoff with West focus of Gulf summit

By Heba Kandil

ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Leaders of six pro-U.S. Gulf Arab
states meet on Sunday to discuss Iran's nuclear ambitions and a
U.N.-Syria standoff, concerned that an escalation of these
disputes could rock a region already suffering from instability
in Iraq.

"There is concern that Iran's nuclear program could be
weaponised. At the end of the day they (Iranians) are building
a nuclear reactor across the Gulf," one Gulf official said.

"There is also concern that if there is any military action
(on Iran), Iran might retaliate and attack pro-U.S. allies in
the Gulf," he said ahead of the two-day annual meeting held in
the United Arab Emirates' capital Abu Dhabi.

Foreign ministers from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)
meet on Saturday ahead of the summit, which some analysts
expect will call for intensified diplomacy with Iran. The GCC
groups Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman.

"GCC countries are getting worried that things in Iran are
getting out of hand," N. Jahardhan, analyst at independent
think thank Gulf Research Center.

"The GCC realizes Iran is definitely a threat...Things have
reached a critical stage and they feel they will bear the brunt
of any escalation. It is clear that there is no defined policy
in Iran about what to do if it is attacked."

Iran's controversial nuclear program is fuelling regional
and Western fears that it is seeking to develop weapons, which
Tehran denies.

But Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's verbal salvos
at Israel -- in which he called for the Jewish state to be
wiped off the map -- are stoking fears about its nuclear
activities and making Gulf states even more anxious.

Any talks by the Sunni-led GCC with Shi'ite Iran would also
focus on Tehran's growing influence in Iraq where Shi'ites
gained power after the ouster of Saddam Hussein. Saudi Arabia
has bluntly accused Iran of meddling in Iraqi affairs.


A Saudi official said Riyadh was keen the Gulf leaders
demand Syria cooperate with a U.N. probe into the killing in
February of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, who
enjoyed close ties with the kingdom.

"King Abdullah has taken the lead to persuade Syria to meet
U.N. demands and Riyadh expects the summit to reflect Saudi
desire for full Syrian cooperation," the official said.

Another Gulf official said the GCC is likely to issue a
strongly worded statement on Syria. "They want Syria to comply
with the United Nations and stop dragging its feet," he added.

The Security Council is reviewing a report by investigator
Detlev Mehlis, who said new evidence implicated Syria in
Hariri's murder. Syria insists it had no role in the killing.

Saudi Arabia had helped broker a deal between Syria and the
United Nations by persuading Damascus to agree to the
questioning of five Syrians over Hariri's murder.

On the economic front, analysts expect talks to focus on
turning bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs) between member
states and other countries into deals with the whole bloc.

The GCC has reluctantly agreed to individual bilateral FTAs
with Washington, even though they infringe on a joint tariff
deal, but said trade pacts may not be signed with other states.

Saudi Arabia's Labour Minister Ghazi al-Gosaibi has also
said ministers will propose a six-year limit for expatriates to
stay in Gulf states, which rely on millions of foreign workers.

He said the move aims to pre-empt any international laws
which might force states to grant citizenship to long-term