Saudis rap neighbours over pacts

Saudi Arabia has criticised its Gulf neighbours for forging separate economic and security agreements with foreign powers, accusing them of weakening Gulf solidarity.

    Prince Saud: The pacts weaken GCC's collective-bargaining power

    "It is alarming to see some members of the GCC enter into

    separate bilateral agreements with international powers in both the

    security and economic spheres, taking precedence over the need to

    act collectively," Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told

    a conference on security in the Gulf on Sunday.

    "These separate arrangements are not compatible with the spirit

    of the charter of the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council]). They diminish

    the collective-bargaining power and weaken not only the solidarity

    of the GCC as a whole but also each of its members in both the

    intermediate and long terms," he said.

    "In the economic sphere, the agreements entered into are in

    clear violation of the GCC's economic accords and decisions.

    Prince Saud added: "What is more important, these agreements impede the progressive

    steps needed to achieve full Gulf economic integration. They will

    ultimately negatively impact the economic sectors in all GCC

    countries, which in turn will have dire consequences and adversely

    affect the GCC business community."

    Defence agreements

    The GCC groups are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia

    and the United Arab Emirates. The group launched a customs union in 2003 and 

    is due to hold a summit in the Bahraini capital Manama later this month.

    "They will

    ultimately negatively impact the economic sectors in all GCC

    countries, which in turn will have dire consequences and adversely

    affect the GCC business community"

    Saud al-Faisal,
    Saudi foreign minister

    Saudi Arabia is the only GCC state that is not a member of the

    World Trade Organisation. In September, Bahrain signed a

    free-trade agreement with the United States.

    In 2002, Kuwait renewed for a second 10-year term a defence pact

    with the US. It also has a defence pact with Britain.

    Qatar also signed a defence agreement with the US in

    2002.

    US President George Bush's administration announced last month that it would begin

    negotiations next year on free trade deals with the United Arab Emirates and

    Oman.

    Bahrain reaction

    The administration hopes to strike these separate deals on the

    way to creating a free trade area covering the entire Middle East over the

    next decade.

    Prince Saud stressed that the GCC states must realise that their

    individual and collective needs are best served by uniting

    economically and militarily, and developing a clear security

    strategy.

    "We think that what Bahrain has done is within the Gulf Cooperation

    Council agreement. W

    e are happy with it"

    Shaikh Muhammad bin Mubarak al-Khalifa,
    Bahraini foreign minister

    Following the Saudi Arabian minister's comments,

    Bahrain's foreign minister defended his

    country's recent free trade agreement with the United States

    .

    "We think that what Bahrain has done is within the Gulf Cooperation

    Council agreement," said Shaikh Muhammad bin

    Mubarak al-Khalifa

    . "We are happy with it."

    The US Congress will vote as early as February on the free trade

    agreement with Bahrain, which is home to the US Navy's 5th Fleet and the

    first country in the region to reach such a deal with the US.

    SOURCE: AFP


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