Gulf leaders urge nuclear-free region

Gulf Arab leaders have called for a nuclear weapons-free Middle East, singling out Israel, not Iran, despite having voiced alarm at Tehran's nuclear ambitions during their two-day meeting.

    GCC leaders opted for diplomacy to tackle the Iran nuclear issue

    In a final statement issued in Abu Dhabi, UAE, on Monday, the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) focused on Israel's failure to join the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which Iran has signed.

    Abdul Rahman al-Attiya, the GCC secretary-general, who said on Sunday that the meeting would call on Iran to shun nuclear arms, declined to explain why the statement did not mention Tehran.

    One Gulf official said it was because the GCC - which groups Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates - wanted to keep diplomatic channels open.

    "They are very worried about Iran's nuclear programme. They opted for diplomacy so as not to alienate Tehran," the official said. 

    Previous proposal

    The GCC settled for a reiteration of a previous proposal to "turn the Middle East, including the Gulf, into an area free of weapons of mass destruction".

    The final statement said: "The council calls on Israel to join the NPT and to open its nuclear facilities to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). It also calls on the international community to press Israel to do so."

    Gulf officials say Iran's nuclear
    plant is an environmental threat

    Rashid Abdullah al-Nuaimi, foreign minister for the UAE, said Gulf countries were extremely worried by Iran's Bushehr nuclear plant, adding that if anything went wrong there, it would cause extensive damage to neighbouring countries.

    Israel has never admitted it has a nuclear weapons programme but is widely believed to have about 200 nuclear warheads.

    Delegates said Iran's nuclear programme had dominated the talks. A draft statement seen by Reuters had included a clause stressing the importance of Iran's cooperation with the IAEA, but this was deleted from the final version read by al-Attiya.

    Iran is in a standoff with the US and Europe over its plans to resume critical nuclear activities.

    Energy or weapons?

    Tehran insists it aims only to produce energy, but the international community fears it is seeking atomic weapons.

    On Sunday, al-Attiya said GCC leaders would discuss trying to broker a deal with Iran to make the region nuclear-free.

    No strong statement was issued
    on the Syria-Lebanon issue

    The final statement made no strong statement about Syria's disagreements with the UN over a UN investigation into the killing of Rafiq al-Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister. Delegates had said the issue would also be high on the agenda.

    "The council expresses its satisfaction with Syria's welcome of the UN resolution related to the probe," it said.

    "The council also reaffirms its keenness to maintain the sovereignty and security of both Lebanon and Syria."

    The Gulf leaders hailed last week's parliamentary election in Iraq as a step towards maintaining the country's unity.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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