Leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), wary of the repercussions of Iran’s nuclear programme, opened a two-day summit on Monday at which they were joined by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
He was the first Iranian president to attend the gathering of the neighbouring bloc of wealthy Gulf Arab oil producers, which groups Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Saudi King Abullah, in the Qatari capital five years after boycotting the last Doha summit due to strained ties, walked into the conference hall flanked by Ahmadinejad and Sultan Qaboos of Oman before shaking hands with the two leaders.
Before he left Tehran, Ahmadinejad hailed his invitation by the Qatari hosts and said he hoped both to attend part of the summit itself and to hold bilateral meetings with the participants.
”It seems that a new chapter of cooperation has been opened in the Persian Gulf,” he said, adding that he would be submitting proposals ”for the expansion of cooperation and the guarantee of security in the region”.
Western nations suspect Iran is using its nuclear programme to develop an atomic bomb covertly.
Despite Iranian denials, the United States and its allies are pressing for stronger United Nations sanctions and Iranian officials have been making regular trips to neighbouring countries in a bid to avert increasing international isolation.
The GCC monarchies, while staunch US allies, are increasingly worried that the stand-off between the West and Iran over Tehran’s uranium-enrichment programme could escalate into a military conflict in their region.
In an interview last month with British newspapers, Bahrain’s crown prince, Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, for the first time accused the Islamic republic of seeking to acquire nuclear weapons.
UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan has also expressed concern over the issue.
”The GCC states follow closely the Iranian nuclear issue, which worries them due to its political consequences, and as far as security is concerned in light of the arm-wrestling between Iran and the international community,” he said.
The GCC countries have already announced plans to launch their own nuclear programme, but only for civilian purposes.
A compromise GCC proposal for an internationally controlled consortium to provide Middle East countries with enriched uranium was received without enthusiasm by Iran.
The GCC nuclear programme is the subject of a feasibility study that would be discussed at the summit, which was due to open at 11am GMT.
GCC leaders are also due to announce the formation of a common market, but they will have to address thorny economic issues as they face mounting pressure either to end their currencies’ peg to a sliding dollar or to revalue.
About 90% of public revenues in the six countries come from oil exports, which are priced in a sliding dollar.
They will also have to decide whether to stick to a self-imposed 2010 target date for the launch of a single currency for their region, even as inflation keeps rising.
GCC foreign and finance ministers decided to stick to the launch date at a closed-door meeting on Sunday, in a two-track approach starting with countries that are ready to take part, a delegate said.
The delegate said the decision was taken at the insistence of Saudi Arabia, although some member states, notably the UAE, had openly said the 2010 launch was not possible due to technical, legislative and fiscal hurdles.
Saudi Finance Minister Ibrahim bin Abdul Aziz al-Assaf said his country refused to abandon the peg to the dollar.
Although the GCC has agreed on key convergence factors such as budget deficit and public debt, it has so far failed to agree on a common figure for inflation and other institutional infrastructure needed for the single currency. — Sapa-AFP