Saudi King Abdullah opened the annual summit of Gulf leaders with a warning that the Arab world was on the brink of exploding because of conflicts in the Palestinian territories, Iraq and Lebanon.
“Our Arab region is besieged by a number of dangers, as if it was a powder keg waiting for a spark to explode,” he told the rulers of the oil-rich monarchies gathered in Riyadh for a two-day meeting to the backdrop of mounting sectarian violence in neighboring Iraq.
The Palestinians were reeling from “a hostile and ugly occupation” by Israel while the international community watched their “bloody tragedy like a spectator,” Abdullah said.
But “most dangerous for the (Palestinian) cause is the conflict among brethren,” he said in a reference to the differences between Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah faction and the Islamist Hamas movement that have blocked the formation of a unity government.
In Iraq “a brother is still killing his brother,” Abdullah said of the tit-for-tat killings between the Sunni Arab former elite and the ruling Shiite majority.
Abdullah also warned that Lebanon, which was rocked by civil war in 1975-1990, risked sliding into renewed civil strife as a result of the current standoff between pro- and anti-Syrian camps.
“In Lebanon, we see dark clouds threatening the unity of the homeland, which risks sliding again into… conflict among the sons of the same country,” he said.
The heads of state of Gulf Cooperation Council members Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates were present alongside the Saudi monarch, the first time in several years that all six rulers have attended the bloc’s year-end summit.
Gulf Arab leaders are also concerned about Shiite Iran’s growing role in Iraq and its standoff with the West over Tehran’s nuclear program, although GCC Secretary General Abdulrahman al-Attiyah said the GCC states do not feel threatened by the Islamic republic.
“The United States talks openly of the danger of Iranian military activity in the region, but our countries do not feel threatened by Tehran. Iranian officials assure us that their nuclear program is peaceful,” Attiyah said.
In his opening speech, King Abdullah said there remained “outstanding issues” and “ambiguity surrounding some policies” in the Gulf.
He did not elaborate, but called for the GCC states to “stand as one” to tackle the problems confronting the Arab world.
A GCC source told AFP that the recommendations put forward to the heads of state by the bloc’s ministerial committees focus on the potential fallout of the mayhem in Iraq.
The recommendations call for “instructing security agencies (of GCC states) to draft a joint plan of action” to deal with the risks arising from the situation in Iraq, including “population displacement, terrorist and criminal acts and the smuggling of weapons… and infiltration (of militants)” across common borders.
The recommendations also call for protecting the GCC states from the potential “sectarian repercussions” of the conflict in Iraq.
The Sunni-dominated Gulf Arab states have Shiite minorities of various sizes — except Bahrain where Shiites form a majority.
Attiyah earlier told AFP that repercussions of “developments in Iran’s nuclear program and the dangerous security situation in Iraq on the six GCC members will be the focus of the summit.”
GCC officials have said in the past they fear a radioactive leak from Iran’s nuclear facilities would be catastrophic for the Gulf environment.
“Gulf states are worried by the possibility of a US-Iranian confrontation” over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, the GCC source said Saturday, adding that “a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would create environmental dangers” for the region.
During their summit, GCC leaders will also discuss steps toward economic integration, chiefly moves to establish a common market by 2007 and launch a monetary union and a single currency by early 2010.
Suleiman Nimr and Wissam Keyrouz, Agence France Press