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His Highness the Amir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah at the 34th GCC Summit with the GCC leaders
Amir issues call to end war in Syria SAUDI PUSH FOR GULF UNION FACES SUMMIT HURDLES

 KUWAIT CITY, Dec 10: HH the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah said Kuwait will be holding the second Donor Conference to Support Syria in mid January, 2014, in response to the request of the UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon.

HH the Amir was talking at the opening session of the 34th GCC Summit at Bayan Palace Tuesday. He appealed to the leaders of the GCC states at the summit to help their brothers in Syria. HH the Amir called on the Arab Gulf countries to double the efforts in yet another attempt to solve the conflict in Syria, while underlining that inter-GCC cooperation protected the Arab Gulf countries from dangers. Addressing the opening session of the 34th GCC Summit, His Highness Sheikh Sabah underlined that cooperation between the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries “will protect and shield us” from the threats and dangers, while welcoming the preliminary nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 group. His Highness Sheikh Sabah said the march of the GCC countries “is capable of serving the people of the Council. “The regional and international challenges reflected the importance of our meeting to discuss the circumstances and their impacts on our region,” he said. “Our cooperation will shield us” from danger, he added.

His Highness the Amir said a closer look at the surrounding circumstances, both regionally and internationally, “clearly assures the importance of our meeting today, and the need to consultation, and exchange of views, concerning such circumstances, and their consequences upon our area, in a manner that fosters our solidarity, and enhances the steadfastness of our unity. Our meeting reflects our sublimity, and our cooperation reflects our power.” His Highness the Amir regretted the failure of the UN Security Council (UNSC) to address the Syrian conflict, which has killed more than 100,000 people and displaced millions others. He welcomed the president of the Syrian coalition of revolutionary and opposition forces Ahmad Al-Jarba. “The humanitarian catastrophe in Syria is still running, and this calls upon us to double our efforts, and our work with the international community, particularly the Security Council, which is, unfortunately, incapable of shouldering its historical responsibility in putting a limit to this humanitarian catastrophe,” he said. “We in the State of Kuwait feel the agony of our brothers, and strive to heal their wounds, and provide livelihood for them,” added His Highness the Amir. “We responded to the call of the UN Secretary General to hold the Second Conference for Supporting the Humanitarian Situation in Syria, which is scheduled to be held in the State of Kuwait in mid-January 2014. From this platform, I call upon you to actively participate, as you always did, in aiding our brothers,” said the Kuwaiti leader. Kuwait hosted the first donor conference for the Syrian people last January and the meeting succeeded in pledging more than the $1.5 billion target set by the UN. Kuwait donated $300 million. His Highness the Amir, meanwhile, welcomed the preliminary Geneva agreement over the Iranian nuclear program, and hoped it would lead to a permanent agreement that would defuse tension in the region.

Turning to the Middle East peace process, His Highness Sheikh Sabah praised the US efforts to relaunch the Middle East peace process with the Palestinians. But peace would not be accomplished but through the Israeli full compliance with the international resolutions and the Arab peace initiative to establish the viable and independent Palestinian State, he added. His Highness the Amir said he received a message from Yemeni President Abdo Rabbu Mansour Hadi to thank the GCC leaders for their support and explained difficulties facing the rebuilding of his country. He said Hadi asked the GCC countries to continue their political and economic support to address the challenges. “We are certain you will continue your support for Yemen to achieve security and stability,” said His Highness the Amir. His Highness Sheikh Sabah, on the other hand, congratulated the UAE people after Dubai was named as host of the EXPO 2020, a matter that reflected the reputation and leading expertise of Dubai.

Friction
The issue of GCC unification, which is threatening to create friction between the states with Oman’s standoff, was expected to be sidelined at the summit. Kuwait had earlier attempted to ease the strain by stating that the issue should be given more time for consideration. However, Head of Kuwait’s National Assembly, Marzouk Ali Al Alghanim, made an indirect reference to the issue at the opening session saying that greater social and economic efforts are required to help GCC states move from cooperation to integration. Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad also requested the leaders to provide political and economic help to Yemen in its time of crisis. Further, he noted that the recent Iranian nuclear agreement has helped ease tensions in the region clearing the specter of military conflict. The Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had paid visits to some GCC states last week to garner support for the nuclear agreement, which exacts some compromises from Iran in return for relaxations on sanctions. The Arab Gulf leaders concluded the first closed-door session of the 34th Summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council, chaired by His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah. The Gulf leaders will hold the second closed-door session early Wednesday. The GCC leaders are expected to pass several resolutions at the end of the summit to uphold the joint Gulf action and boost the welfare and achieve interests of the Gulf people. Saudi Arabia’s dream of binding the Gulf Arab states into a union was expected to get a sceptical hearing at the summit, with differences over Iran, Egypt and Syria demonstrating that the Gulf do not all speak with one voice. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah proposed two years ago for a stronger union with Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emeriates. The plan was expected to be one of the main topics on Tuesday when the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council kicked off their annual meeting in Kuwait. But just days before the leaders were due to arrive, Oman dismissed the proposal with unusual directness in a region where the royal courts are usually not known for their bluntness. “We are not for establishing a union at all,” Foreign Minister Youssef bin Alawi bin Abdullah said on Saturday at a conference in Bahrain, shortly after a Saudi official had renewed Riyadh’s call for closer unity. Saudis shrugged off the sign of disagreement: “Oman has every right to express that view. I don’t think that is going to prevent the union from happening,” former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal said in Bahrain. “Having a more closely knit union between the GCC countries in my view is inevitable and whether Oman wants to join now, or later, that’s up to them.” Diplomats in the region say the Omanis are not the only sceptics: the UAE and Kuwait also expressed reservations at last year’s summit behind closed doors, they say. Despite the similarities of the six Gulf monarchies, they have diverging regional outlooks, economies and political systems. The others are increasingly gaining the confidence to veer off a script written by Saudi Arabia, which has by far the biggest economy and more citizens than the other five combined. “A number of Gulf states view Saudi Arabia as the gorilla in the room. Much as they have a lot in common with them, they don’t want to be dominated by the Saudis,” said Robert Jordan, US ambassador to Riyadh from 2001-03. “Given the somewhat divergent attitudes on Iran, and to a lesser extent Syria, it may be harder to get common ground in a shared foreign policy.” The GCC was set up in 1981 to counter the rise in the region of non-Arab Shi’ite Iran, which Riyadh views as its principal rival for hegemony in the Gulf and wider Middle East. But though all six members are somewhat suspicious of Iran, Oman and Qatar have made moves to seek better ties with Tehran.

Past
Oman went even further in the past year, hosting secret meetings between Iranian and US officials which helped lead to a nuclear pact last month — a deal that had Saudis fuming. “I think there is going to be more tension within the GCC because the prospect of Iran’s rehabilitation into the region does introduce a new set of tensions because the Gulf countries don’t have the same policies towards Iran,” said Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institute in Doha. Oman has always been an outlier in the group, with a unique Indian Ocean maritime culture. Its predominating Ibadi sect of Islam differs both from the Sunni sect of the other Gulf ruling houses and the Shi’ism of Iran. But other members have also veered from consensus. Qatar, an increasingly confident upstart which earned energy riches more recently than the others, has irked neighbours with bold foreign policy moves, especially since the 2011 “Arab Spring” revolts when it backed movements linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. Qatar provided billions of dollars of funding for Egypt when it elected a Brotherhood government last year, even though other Gulf monarchs were alarmed at the movement’s rise.

This year, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates made their opposing views on Egypt plain by pledging $12 billion in aid to Cairo after the military toppled the Brotherhood. On Syria, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have shared leading roles arming and funding rebels seeking to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad. But although they are on the same side in the war, Western diplomats say they have backed rival rebel groups. Domestically, there are political differences as well. While all six GCC states are ruled by dynasties that wield ultimate power, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman have ceded some political influence to elected parliaments, something that seems far off in Saudi Arabia, Qatar or the UAE. Bahrain, though ruled by a Sunni Muslim family, has a Shi’ite majority, which means it treads a more difficult line. During the Arab Spring it was the only one of the six to see major unrest, which it and its allies blamed on Iran. The six also differ economically, which complicates efforts to unite them. While all have oil, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE are rich OPEC members; Oman and Bahrain are poorer. Qatar and the UAE are high-profile global traders with gleaming skyscrapers at home and airline logos emblazoned on soccer shirts abroad. Saudi Arabia, though the richest of all, needs its wealth at home to support a much larger population. Oman said as early as 2006 that it would not join an as yet unrealised project to unite the countries under a single currency. The UAE, which sees itself as a main rival to Riyadh for dominance in regional finance, has also rejected the scheme, which would involve a Gulf central bank based in Riyadh.


By: Valiya S. Sajjad and Ahmed Al Naqeeb Arab Times Staff and Agencies

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