The gathering of the six-member group, led by Saudi Arabia and allied to the U.S., comes amid rising tensions between Iran and the U.S., which is increasing pressure over the country’s nuclear program. It follows a year that has brought unprecedented political change as popular movements swept away governments in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
Sunni Muslim monarchs in the Gulf have accused Shiite-led Iran of seeking to foment unrest among the Shiite population in GCC members including Bahrain, where Saudi Arabia and other members sent troops to help put down a Shiite uprising. Iran denies interference and accuses Sunni rulers in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia of discriminating against Shiites.
The Gulf states will try to curb Iranian power by “tightening up sanctions,” Paul Sullivan, a political scientist specializing in Middle East security at Georgetown University in Washington, said in an e-mailed response to questions. He said they are also cultivating ties “with the U.S., European Union states and others, to have better backup against Iran just in case.”
Prince Nayef, Saudi Arabia’s interior minister and crown prince, met Iranian Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi in Riyadh on Dec. 12 as relations deteriorated.
The leaders are also set to discuss Syria, whose government agreed today to an Arab League proposal that will allow monitors into the country to verify compliance with measures to halt violence against protesters. The UN said more than 5,000 people have been killed in the nine-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil-producer and typically a supporter of Arab leaders challenged by popular movements, spoke out against Assad’s crackdown. The Syrian president and most top security officials are from the Alawite sect, affiliated to Shiism, while most Syrians are Sunnis.
“The Gulf position on Syria is that they would like to see the emergence of a Sunni state more aligned with them,” said Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis.
The Arab League imposed sanctions on Syria on Nov. 27, increasing economic and political pressure on Assad.
To contact the reporters on this story: Glen Carey in Riyadh at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at email@example.com