Saudi King Abdullah Calls for Closer Arab Union at GCC Summit

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah called on leaders of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council to strengthen their alliance into a united “single entity” as they confront threats to national security.

“I ask you today to move from a stage of cooperation to a stage of union in a single entity,” Abdullah said yesterday at the opening session of a GCC meeting in Riyadh in comments aired on Saudi state television. “No doubt, you all know we are targeted in our security and stability.”

The GCC leaders’ two-day summit may focus on measures needed against Iran and on the impact of unrest in Syria. The gathering of the group, led by Saudi Arabia and allied with the U.S., comes amid rising tensions between Iran and the U.S., which is increasing pressure over the Iranian nuclear program.

Sunni Muslim monarchs in the Gulf have accused Shiite Muslim-led Iran of seeking to foment unrest among the Shiite population in GCC states including Bahrain, where Saudi Arabia and other members sent troops to help put down Shiite protests. Iran denies interference and accuses Sunni rulers in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia of discriminating against Shiites.

‘Reasons to Unify’

The idea for a greater political union started “during and after the Bahrain crisis,” said Jamal Khashoggi, former editor-in-chief of Saudi Arabia’s Al Watan newspaper and now head of a television news channel being started by Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal. “There is a feeling in the GCC, when you are rich with little power, that there are reasons to unify.”

The king’s call for unity may lead to more “coordinated” foreign and monetary policies, he said.

The GCC was established in 1981 as an economic and political grouping of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain.

Four of the GCC states are working toward a single currency, a goal originally intended to be achieved by the end of 2010. The establishment of the currency has been postponed indefinitely, al-Awsat newspaper reported two days ago, citing Abdullah Al-Shebli, assistant secretary-general for economic affairs at the GCC Secretariat

The GCC said in May that it may admit the Arab monarchies of Jordan and Morocco to the group, which has held out against pro-democracy movements sweeping across the region. In March, the GCC agreed to provide Oman and Bahrain with $10 billion each over a 10-year period to help meet protesters’ demands for better living standards.

‘Front’ Against Iran

Saudi Arabia is trying to “create a unified front against Iran,” Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, said in a phone interview. “The Saudis are also trying to put forward a foreign-policy model that other GCC members will hopefully accept.”

The summit follows a year that has brought unprecedented political change to the Arab world as popular movements swept away governments in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf oil producers, excluding Bahrain, haven’t experienced the same political instability this year.

Abdullah announced a $130 billion spending plan in the first quarter in response to the spread of unrest in the Middle East.

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 before the summit. 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.”

Saudi-Iranian Meeting

Prince Nayef, Saudi Arabia’s interior minister and crown prince, met Iranian Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi in Riyadh as relations deteriorated, the official Saudi Press Agency reported on Dec. 12.

Tensions between predominantly Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran have escalated this year. On Oct. 11, the U.S. accused Iran of plotting to assassinate Adel Al-Jubeir, the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. A week earlier, Saudi Arabia accused an unidentified foreign country of seeking to undermine the stability of the kingdom after an attack on security forces in the Shiite village of Awwamiya.

Oil prices may surge by $40 a barrel if international sanctions halt supplies from Iran, Bank of America Corp. said, amid signs that an alliance of nations is preparing tougher measures against the Persian Gulf producer. The European Union added 180 Iranian officials and companies to a blacklist this month to intensify pressure on Iran over its nuclear program, after the U.S. imposed stiffer penalties in November.

Talks on Syria

The GCC 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 Alawites, affiliated with 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,” Karasik said before the start of the summit. The Arab League imposed sanctions on Syria on Nov. 27, increasing economic and political pressure on Assad.

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