December 18, 2005

Gulf Arab leaders to get tough on Iran and Syria

By Heba Kandil and Andrew Hammond

ABU DHABI (Reuters) - U.S.-allied Gulf Arab leaders,
alarmed at neighboring Iran's nuclear ambitions, will examine
proposals for a nuclear-free zone in the world's top
oil-producing region during 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 meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC),
which groups Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait,
Bahrain, Oman and Qatar.

After recitations of the Koran and a brief statement from
host UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan, the six
leaders began talks behind close doors and amid tight security.

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 earlier said.

"This issue is very worrying, not just for the GCC but for
whole world," he told reporters.


He said one of the proposals on the agenda was for a deal
to be brokered between Iran and neighboring GCC states, which
overlook the Gulf shores, to make the region nuclear-free.

"As Iranian officials say the program is for peaceful
purposes, why can't an agreement come into effect between all
countries concerned and which could include Iraq and Yemen in
the future."

"This will pave the way for a Middle East agreement in
which Israel could eventually become part of ... this will
prompt the international community to press Israel to open its
(nuclear sites) for inspection ..." Attiya added.

Israel has never admitted it has a nuclear weapons program
but is widely believed to have about 200 nuclear warheads.

Tehran insists its nuclear program 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 alarmed.

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
neighboring Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and
Qatar but organizers 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 UN 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.