December 18, 2005

Gulf Arab leaders talk 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, examined
proposals for a nuclear-free zone in the world's top
oil-producing region during summit talks on Sunday.

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

The six leaders, who will resume talks on Monday before
issuing a final communiqu, hope to defuse mounting tension in a
region already affected by instability in Iraq and militant
attacks by supporters of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.

"The international community is calling for an end to the
spread of weapons of mass destruction. This has become a global
demand. One day, our grandchildren should be able to live in
safety from this evil," Youssef bin Alwai bin Abdullah, the
Omani minister responsible for foreign affairs, told reporters
shortly before the talks ended for the day.

Earlier, GCC Secretary-General Abdul Rahman al-Attiya said
the leaders were very worried about Iran's nuclear ambitions.

"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," he said.

A Gulf delegate said the GCC wanted Iran to open its
nuclear facilities to international inspection.

"Gulf countries want guarantees and transparency from Iran
over its nuclear facilities. They want to know what measures
Iran has for the safety of the environment," he added.


Attiya had said one of the proposals on the agenda was for
a deal to be brokered between Iran and neighboring GCC states
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 which
Israel could eventually become part of," he said.

"This will prompt the international community to press
Israel to open its (nuclear sites) for inspection."

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

Tehran insists its nuclear program is for energy, but many
fear it plans 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 caused

"Israel is a country that exists and which is recognized by
the United Nations. The Palestinians are cooperating with it,
the Arab countries are negotiating with it and we have an Arab
League position in favor of achieving peace," Oman's Abdullah
told reporters when asked about Ahmadinejad's remarks.

Oman established low-level diplomatic ties with Israel but
they have been suspended during the past 4-1/2 years of
Israeli-Palestinian violence.

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 the kind of militant attacks which
have hit neighboring Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait
and Qatar, but organizers have taken no risks, increasing
police patrols and cordoning off streets around the summit's

The GCC leaders are expected to issue a strongly worded
statement urging Damascus to fully cooperate with the UN
investigation into Hariri's death.

"They 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
said. "We don't want to waste another six months without
sincere and real cooperation between Syria and the UN"

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.