ABU DHABI, (Reuters) – U.S.-allied Gulf Arab leaders, alarmed at neighbouring Iran””s nuclear ambitions, will examine proposals for a nuclear-free zone in the world””s top oil-producing region when they meet for a summit on Sunday.
Syria””s standoff with the United Nations over the killing of former Lebanese premier Rafik al-Hariri will also top the agenda of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which groups Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar.
All kings and emirs of the GCC have arrived in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi amid tight security for the two-day annual meeting which will
start at 6 p.m. (1400 GMT).
They hope to defuse mounting tension in a region already affected by instability in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led war to oust Saddam Hussein and militant attacks by supporters of Osama bin Laden””s al Qaeda network.
"We trust Iran but we don””t want to see an Iranian nuclear plant which is closer in distance to our Gulf shores than to Tehran causing us danger and damage," GCC Secretary-General Abdul Rahman al-Attiya said ahead of the opening on Sunday.
On Saturday, Attiya said he was worried about a nuclear arms race in the region. "I think it is time for an agreement to have the Gulf region free of nuclear weapons. This will no doubt pave the way to urge Israel to submit its (nuclear) facilities (to inspection)," he said.
Israel, which has never admitted it has a nuclear weapons programme, is widely believed to have some 200 nuclear warheads.
Tehran insists its nuclear programme is for energy, but many fear it is seeking to develop atomic weapons. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad””s verbal salvoes at Israel, including his call for the Jewish state to be wiped off the map, have also alarmed.
The GCC will also discuss a violent campaign by al Qaeda against Gulf states and Saudi King Abdullah””s proposal earlier this year to set up an international centre to combat terrorism.
UNITED ON IRAN, SYRIA
The UAE has been spared militant attacks which have hit neighbouring Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar but organisers haven taken no risks, increasing police patrols and cordoning off streets around the summit””s venue.
The GCC is expected to issue a strongly worded statement urging Damascus to fully cooperate with the U.N. investigation into Hariri””s death.
"They (leaders) all agree that they don””t want nuclear weapons in Iran and they don””t want Syrian intervention in Lebanon but they need to agree on what to do about it," one GCC delegate told Reuters.
GCC delegates said the Sunni-led GCC would also discuss ways to curb what they see as Shi””ite Iran””s growing influence in Iraq, where Shi””ites gained power after the ouster of Saddam Hussein. Saudi Arabia has bluntly accused Iran of meddling.
On the economic front, the summit will review steps towards a monetary union, which analysts said needs a political thrust to move to the next phase.
The talks will also cover a GCC-European Union trade agreement under negotiation for 15 years and which Attiya said the bloc hoped to finalise early next year.
GCC members will be asked to turn any bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs) into deals for the whole bloc.
The GCC has reluctantly agreed to bilateral FTAs with Washington, even though they infringe on a joint tariff deal, but said trade pacts may not be signed with other states.