December 18, 2005

Gulf Arab leaders to get tough on Iran, Syria

By Heba Kandil and Andrew Hammond

ABU DHABI (Reuters) - U.S.-allied Gulf Arab leaders,
alarmed at neighbouring Iran's nuclear ambitions, will examine
proposals for a nuclear-free zone in the world's top
oil-producing region when they meet for a summit on Sunday.

Syria's standoff with the United Nations over the killing
of former Lebanese premier Rafik al-Hariri will also top the
agenda of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which groups
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman
and Qatar.

All kings and emirs of the GCC have arrived in the UAE
capital Abu Dhabi amid tight security for the two-day annual
meeting which will start at 6 p.m. (1400 GMT).

They hope to defuse mounting tension in a region already
affected by instability in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led war to
oust Saddam Hussein and militant attacks by supporters of Osama
bin Laden's al Qaeda network.

"We trust Iran but we don't want to see an Iranian nuclear
plant which is closer in distance to our Gulf shores than to
Tehran causing us danger and damage," GCC Secretary-General
Abdul Rahman al-Attiya said ahead of the opening on Sunday.

On Saturday, Attiya said he was worried about a nuclear
arms race in the region. "I think it is time for an agreement
to have the Gulf region free of nuclear weapons. This will no
doubt pave the way to urge Israel to submit its (nuclear)
facilities (to inspection)," he said.

Israel, which has never admitted it has a nuclear weapons
programme, is widely believed to have some 200 nuclear

Tehran insists its nuclear programme is for energy, but
many fear it is seeking to develop atomic weapons. President
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's verbal salvoes at Israel, including his
call for the Jewish state to be wiped off the map, have also

The GCC will also discuss a violent campaign by al Qaeda
against Gulf states and Saudi King Abdullah's proposal earlier
this year to set up an international center to combat


The UAE has been spared militant attacks which have hit
neighbouring Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and
Qatar but organisers haven taken no risks, increasing police
patrols and cordoning off streets around the summit's venue.

The GCC is expected to issue a strongly worded statement
urging Damascus to fully cooperate with the U.N. investigation
into Hariri's death.

"They (leaders) all agree that they don't want nuclear
weapons in Iran and they don't want Syrian intervention in
Lebanon but they need to agree on what to do about it," one GCC
delegate told Reuters.

GCC delegates said the Sunni-led GCC would also discuss
ways to curb what they see as Shi'ite Iran's growing influence
in Iraq, where Shi'ites gained power after the ouster of Saddam
Hussein. Saudi Arabia has bluntly accused Iran of meddling.

On the economic front, the summit will review steps toward
a monetary union, which analysts said needs a political thrust
to move to the next phase.

The talks will also cover a GCC-European Union trade
agreement under negotiation for 15 years and which Attiya said
the bloc hoped to finalize early next year.

GCC members will be asked to turn any bilateral free trade
agreements (FTAs) into deals for the whole bloc.

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