May 6, 2006

Gulf Arab leaders to discuss Iran crisis

By Andrew Hammond

RIYADH (Reuters) - U.S.-allied Gulf Arab leaders who meet
in Riyadh on Saturday will call for a peaceful solution to the
crisis between Iran and Western nations over its nuclear
ambitions, analysts and officials said.

Gulf Arab countries, wary of Iran since the 1979 Islamic
Revolution, share U.S. concerns about Iran having a nuclear
bomb but fear another military conflict in the region after the
2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

"These countries do not want Iran to have a nuclear weapon
but they also do not want it taken by force," said Saudi
political analyst Dawoud al-Shiryan.

"They want stability in the Gulf and they will call on the
world to save the Gulf region from any convulsions."

The one-day summit of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation
Council (GCC) comes as France, Britain and Germany, with U.S.
backing, drafted a U.N. resolution that demands a halt to
Iran's nuclear fuel program.

But Russia and China, who as nuclear powers have a veto on
Security Council resolutions, may oppose sanctions against
Iran, the world's fourth biggest oil exporter.

Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes and
has promised revenge if attacked by the United States or

A GCC official in Riyadh said the political and economic
alliance -- which comprises Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain,
Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates -- may try to use
their close links to Washington to mediate in the dispute.

He noted that Qatar's ruler Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa met
Iranian officials in Tehran last week. Iran's chief nuclear
negotiator Ali Larijani said in Dubai last week that Iran
welcomed any Gulf Arab mediation.

When GCC leaders met in December they singled out Israel in
a call for a nuclear-free Middle East and left out Iran in an
effort to keep diplomatic channels open. "They will mention
both in the final statement this time," the official said.

Israel is widely suspected of possessing nuclear weapons,
and Iraq suffered over a decade of United Nations sanctions and
a war largely over concerns that it was developing such

Popular concern over a nuclear Iran in the Arab world is
mainly limited to the Gulf region. Iran's pro-Palestinian
rhetoric plays well to Arab publics who view their governments
as doing little to stand up to U.S. backing for Israel.

Gulf Arabs are worried about the environmental impact of a
U.S. attack on Iran's nuclear plant at Bushehr on the other
opposite side of the narrow waterway.

Analysts say normally quietist Gulf Arab states could face
popular pressure to emulate Iran if it obtained the bomb,
challenging their close ties with the United States.