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Gulf Unity On Hold Amid Iranian Warning
2012-05-14 15:31:08 (228 weeks ago)
Posted By: Intellpuke

Saudi-led plans for deeper Gulf Arab regional integration to challenge Iran are in doubt after the failure to announce an expected unity deal between Saudi Arabia and neighboring Bahrain.

Expectations had been running high ahead of a special summit of the six-member Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, but a decision was put off until the GCC next meets, in December. Iranian Members of Parliament warned that the plans were likely to increase insecurity in the Gulf.

As an initial step, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain had signaled a readiness to announce a bilateral union, but even that limited move failed to materialize.

Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, criticized Iranian "provocations" over three occupied Gulf islands that are claimed by the United Arab Emirates. Threats from Tehran were unacceptable, he warned. Iran is also routinely accused of backing the Shia-dominated opposition in Bahrain.

The GCC secretary-general, Abdullateef al-Zayani, said all six member countries would sign up to a common defense policy when they meet in Manama in December. The U.A.E and Oman, whose leaders did not attend the Riyadh summit, appeared to have reservations. Qatar and Kuwait were also said to have objections.

(story continues below)

Plans for a Saudi-Bahrain union have been talked up by both governments since last year, when a 1,500-strong Saudi-led GCC force intervened in Bahrain to help crush the pro-democracy protests.

Bahrain's King Hamad said the proposed Gulf union was a "response to changes and challenges that face us on international and regional fronts". The nature of this union remains unclear but a Bahraini minister said it could follow the European Union model.

The GCC has achieved very little in terms of regional integration in 30 years. Worries about Saudi dominance have already frozen plans for a single Gulf currency. Abdulkhaliq Abdullah, an Emirati analyst, said the six GCC members were "not all enthusiastic" about a union.

Prince Saud told reporters after the summit: "There was no step to have a special relation between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia at this stage, although both countries would welcome a closer association. There is no problem between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia that would prevent closer co-operation. I am hoping that the six countries will unite at the next meeting. The issue will take time."

The Gulf leaders also discussed the crisis in Syria, where the Saudis and Qataris are leading the anti-Assad camp and have supported arming anti-regime rebels.

The Saudi-Bahrain unity proposal had been angrily denounced by the Bahraini opposition. Sheikh Ali Salman, leader of al-Wefaq, warned that any such move should be subjected to a referendum in all GCC states. Bahraini protesters interpret it as a way to unite the two western-backed Sunni monarchies to work together to crush Shia dissent and confront Iran.

In Tehran, Members of Parliament attacked the unity plan. "Bahraini and Saudi rulers must understand that this unwise decision will only strengthen the Bahraini people's resolve against the forces of occupation," they said. The letter was signed by 190 of 290 Members of Parliament, and warned that "the crisis in Bahrain will be transferred to Saudi Arabia and will push the region towards insecurity".

Zayani said the GCC had agreed financial support over five years for Jordan and Morocco, the two relatively poor Arab monarchies that are seeking to respond with limited reforms to defuse the tensions and expectations stirred up in the Arab spring.

Intellpuke: You can read this article by Guardian Middle East Editor Ian Black in context here:

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