"Bahrain will call for a meeting of foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in the next few days to continue deliberations over the agenda of the summit" on 20-21 December, Foreign Minister Muhammad bin Mubarak al-Khalifa was quoted as saying by the official BNA news agency.

He did not give details, but a Bahraini official said Manama sought to host the gathering on Sunday or Monday.

That would precede the usual meeting of foreign ministers on the eve of the annual year-end summit bringing together the heads of state of GCC members Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The foreign ministers are due to get together on 19 December.

Saudi admonition

Foreign and finance ministers of the oil-rich Gulf bloc already held a preparatory meeting in the Bahraini capital on Tuesday.

Bahrain has come under fire over
its free-trade accord with the US

"There are differences among member states over economic matters. Bahrain wants to resolve any differences in order to ensure the success of the summit," the Western diplomat said.

He pointed out that Saudi Arabia had criticised Bahrain over its free-trade pact with the United States.

On Sunday, Saudi Arabia accused its smaller Gulf neighbours of weakening Gulf solidarity by forging separate economic and security agreements with foreign powers.

Saudi Arabia is the only GCC state that is not a member of the World Trade Organisation, while in September Bahrain signed a free-trade agreement with the United States.