MANAMA, Dec 25: The six Gulf states sharpened their tone against their Shiite neighbour Iran on Tuesday, demanding an immediate halt to its “interference” in their internal affairs while urging a rapid political transition in its ally Syria.

Concluding a two-day summit in Manama, the Gulf Cooperation Council members voiced support for Bahrain’s Sunni minority regime while lashing out at Tehran, which they accuse of fueling a Shiite-led uprising in the host country last year.

In a joint statement, the GCC countries said they “reject and denounce” Iran’s “continued interference” in their internal affairs.

It added that Tehran must “immediately and completely stop these actions and policies that increase regional tension and threaten security and stability”.

The six states — Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates — also condemned Iran’s “continued occupation of the three Emirati islands” of Abu Musa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb, which lie in the strategic Strait of Hormuz entrance to the Gulf.

In addition to the dispute over the islands, relations between Iran and most GCC states have been further strained since Gulf troops rolled into Bahrain last year to help put down the Shiite-led protests.
The regional powers have also taken opposite stances towards the Syrian crisis. While Tehran has openly supported President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, GCC members Saudi Arabia and Qatar have called for arming rebels fighting regime loyalists.

In their Tuesday statement, the GCC states expressed “deep sadness over the continued shedding of blood by the regime and the destruction of cities and infrastructure, making political transition a demand which must be rapidly implemented.”

They also urged the international community “to make a quick and serious move to end massacres” in Syria and provide humanitarian assistance to the people.

Kuwait’s Amir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah announced Monday a donor conference on behalf of civilians caught up in the Syrian conflict to be held on Jan 30 at the request of the United Nations.
The GCC states also affirmed their support for the newly-formed opposition National Coalition “as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.”

The statement meanwhile welcomed a decision by Yemeni President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi to restructure the army and the defence ministry, purging them of relatives and cronies of former strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The Gulf states had strongly backed a political deal reached last year in which Saleh resigned following a year-long uprising in the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest nation.

The GCC called on “all components of the Yemeni people” to participate in a national dialogue after it failed to take place last month when southern separatists refused to join the talks. The dialogue is part of the transition period, as per the Gulf-backed deal.

The summit had opened Monday with a call for closer economic integration and unity in the face of the turmoil which has swept much of the Middle East and North Africa.

In the closing statement, the meeting said the GCC states had decided to accelerate the process of integrating the economic gap between member states and had approved a security treaty, while announcing the creation of a unified military command. No further details were given.

Four of the six heads of state did not attend the annual gathering.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is convalescing after a back operation in November, while Qatar sent its crown prince, the United Arab Amirates its vice president, and Oman its deputy prime minister.

The next summit will be held in Kuwait.

Kuwait’s Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Mustafa Al-Shamali said here on Tuesday that the final communique of the Supreme Council of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) include several important issues dealing with the economic agreement and economic integration among member states.

Al-Shimali said in statements to KUNA, on sidelines of the 33rd GCC Summit, that the Supreme Council of the GCC leaders stressed the need to take necessary steps to strengthen joint GCC work, particularly with regard to the third article of the Economic Agreement.

He added, the Supreme Council called upon concerned committees to accelerate the implementation of the economic agreement, consisting of unifying monetary and financial policies, and enhancing production capabilities to ensure greater job opportunities for citizens.

He clarified that financial and economic committees were tasked to present timed programs aimed at achieving complete transition of economic integration among GCC countries.

He said, the supreme council praised the GCC achievements in various fields of development, to achieve economic integration and activating the member states’ role.

He noted that the Supreme Council called on foreign and finance ministers in the GCC to hold joint meetings before the GCC consultative summit to be held in May 2013, in Riyadh, to draft
recommendations concerning economic integration for the summit.

Delivering the final comminique, GCC Secretary General Abdul Latif Bin Rashid Al-Zayani affirmed his deep thanks to H.M. the King of Bahrain, as well as the success of the summit. Al-Zayani reiterated the request from the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques for the movement towards the formation of a union, commending it, as well as his efforts in opening the King Abdul Aziz Bin Abdullah International Center for inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue in Vienna.

Al-Zayani commended H.H. the Amir, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah’s call towards more aid to Syria, and Qatari Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani’s calls to end the siege on Gaza and take steps towards Palestinian unification, in addition to the general calls for the enrichment of cooperation between the states.

Further, the final communique stated that the leaders had sanctioned the formation of a unified military command aimed at jointly planning, organizing and leading land-based, air-based and naval forces in order to better intercept all kinds of threats towards the region, condemning all terrorist forces, as well as the recent attacks that took place in Manama.

Al-Zayani stated that the leaders also discussed the commencement of studies for the formation of organizations for nutrition, medication, public health and protection, as well as studies for developing media strategies for the GCC states, methods for fighting corruption, and a program for child education.
Further more, Al-Zayani referred to the Sakhir Declaration, movement initiated by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques to move the GCC from the level of cooperation to the formation of a union. Regarding this. the declaration stated “with regard to the areas stipulated in Article III of the Economic Agreement, especially in the areas of movement and residence for the GCC nationals, the practice of trades and professions, movement of capital, tax measures, equality of treatment between nationals of the GCC in receiving education, health, social services, employment in government and private sectors, and social insurance and retirement,” the leaders stressed their commitment to a timeline for the implementation of integration and the formation of a Gulf common market and Customs Union.

In addition, they stressed the importance of strengthening the role of the GCC Secretariat in this process, and the promotion of the spirit of citizenship in the Gulf through communication with the Shura and National Councils, and opening national training centers, universities and institutes to all GCC citizens alike.

Further, they emphasized their commitment to collective security through the development of the Common Defense System, calling upon the secretariat to follow up on the implementation of all the steps leading up to this, and will be further discussed in a special summit in Riyadh next year.
In closing the session, King Hamad Bin Issa Al-Khalifa expressed his thanks and best wishes to the leaders.

Following the closing of the session, Secretary General Al-Zayani and Bahrain’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa held a press conference, summarizing the events of the summit.

Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa commended King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud for his steps towards integration, as well as H.H. the Amir’s calls for providing aid to Syria. Further, he stated that the four truths the summit had reached were the opportunity it provides for dialogue and research, the vitality of this moment in which the summit was held, the agreement for joint military leadership, and economic integration.

Al-Zayani expressed thanks to King Hamad Bin Issa Al-Khalifa for his generosity in assigning a piece of land specifically for the secretariat to continue their work.

Further, regarding questions on the timeline for the movement towards the formation of a Gulf Union, Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa stated that the steps begun since last year’s summit in Riyadh, and would be further concretized in the special summit that would be held in Riyadh next year, adding that meetings would be held with the states’ respective Ministers of Finance to decide on expanding economic operation and study the effects of integration and means of implementation. He further stated that military cooperation would not affect the Peninsula Shield Force, adding that the idea of forming a corps had been raised, but was not yet decided upon. He added that the military agreement had been updated to suit the constitutions of the GCC states, confirming that nations require stability and peace to flourish and innovate.


By: Joana Saba Arab Times Staff and Agencies

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