Saudi fears block closer Gulf union
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah (L) walks into the meeting hall with his Bahraini counterpart Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa in Riyadh. AFP photoGulf Arab countries failed to agree on further integration May 14 after a high-profile summit seen as part of Saudi efforts to counter Iran’s growing influence and Shiite Muslim discontent in Bahrain.
Gulf politicians had played up the idea that the Riyadh meeting would establish a closer union between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, which sent troops in March last year to help Manama with an initial effort to squash the uprising. But Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal, speaking after the two hour summit, told a news conference that talks on a possible union of six nations had been postponed until the next meeting in Bahrain in December.
“Leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have approved the call for a commission to continue studying in order to present final results (to a coming summit),” he said. “The issue will take time. The aim is for all countries to join, not just two or three. I’m hoping that the six countries will unite in the next meeting.” The council consists of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. The union calls for economic, political and military coordination and a new decision-making body based in Riyadh, replacing the current GCC Secretariat. Bahraini Information Minister, Samira Rajab, said it could follow the “European Union model,” suggesting it would be primarily an economic confederation.
Saudi Arabia warns Iran against meddling
There are concerns about how much influence would be given to Saudi Arabia as the bloc’s de facto power, and whether its ultraconservative views could cast shadows over Western-friendly centers such as Dubai and Doha. Worries about Saudi dominance have already frozen plans for a single Gulf currency.
The UAE and Oman pulled out of a single currency scheme which would involve a Gulf central bank based in Riyadh. Gulf analysts say some GCC members are averse to integration, fearing a loss of sovereignty. Saudi foreign minister also said that Iran should keep out of the kingdom’s relations with Shiite-majority Bahrain, even if the two states decide to form a union. “Iran has nothing to do with what happens between the two countries, even if it develops into a unity,” he told reporters at the end of summit.
Iranian parliamentarians earlier on May 14 condemned the planned union. “The Iranian threat is not accepted,” Al-Faisal said, after a letter signed by 190 parliamentarians warned Bahraini and Saudi rulers that “they must understand that this unwise decision will only strengthen the Bahraini people’s resolve against the forces of occupation.” Saudi-led Gulf forces rolled into Bahrain in March 2011 to boost the kingdom’s security forces, which a day later crushed month-old, Shiite-dominated protests.
The letter, read out in the 290-member Parliament, warned that “the crisis in Bahrain will be transferred to Saudi Arabia and will push the region towards insecurity.” Iran has repeatedly voiced support for the protests in Bahrain and strongly condemned the deployment of Saudi-led forces.
Compiled from AFP, AP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.