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Summit to sign anti-terror pact

posted on 21/12/2004: 736 views

Manama - Gulf leaders are to sign an agreement to combat terrorism and affirm their commitment to reforms at the end of a 2-day summit here today, officials said yesterday. They will also call for "a central UN role" in Iraqi elections next month and endorse a proposal to hold an international anti-terrorism conference.

At the opening session of their 25th summit, the leaders paid a tribute to Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. The summit is named after the late President. "Today, we remember with gratitude Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, whose memory will be with us along the process," His Majesty King Hamad Bin Eisa Al Khalifa of Bahrain, who chaired the summit meeting, said.

"Sheikh Zayed was a unique leader and a pioneer of independence … who unified his people in a historic achievement and participated in creating this progressive Gulf body," King Hamad said.

Economic issues dominated the summit, specially the common Gulf market, to be set up by 2007, and the single currency scheme, which is to take effect by 2010, Bahrain's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Mohammad Abdul Gaffar told reporters.

The summit will also issue guidelines to labour ministers to study the impact of the great number of foreign workers in their countries, officials said.

A Bahraini proposal has suggested 5 years as the period an expatriate worker can stay in a GCC country. Abdul Gaffar said the leaders will endorse the GCC Security Agreement, which was signed by the interior ministers in Kuwait in May.

The summit, which is being held in the backdrop of rising terrorist threat in the region, will call upon the member states to "unite their efforts in the fight against terrorism," the Bahraini minister said. A Gulf diplomat said the summit will endorse a proposal to hold an international conference to address "the plague of terrorism".

Abdul Gaffar said the meeting will also affirm the GCC's intention to introduce political reforms, "which would be implemented in a way suitable to the conditions and the characteristics of each country".

As the summit began yesterday, Saudi Arabia refused to discuss economic integration unless a solution was found to a row over free trade pacts with the United States. The summit got under way in the absence of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz. Prince Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz, the Saudi Defence Minister, is heading the kingdom's delegation instead.

"The Saudi delegation has demanded the removal of any items relating to [Gulf] economic cooperation from the agenda unless Bahrain's free trade deal with Washington is discussed and a solution is found," a Gulf source said.

Abdul Rahman Al Attiyah, GCC Secretary-General, said the row over the Bahrain-US deal was not on the summit's formal agenda, but could be raised by the leaders in side meetings. The Gulf source said Saudi Arabia had told its partners there is no point having a GCC customs union if one member state gives customs exemptions to other countries on a bilateral basis.

Riyadh is threatening to re-impose customs tariffs on foreign goods coming from GCC states that sign other free trade pacts, said the source.

There is concern that the dispute over the free trade accords could jeopardise the Gulf States' fledgling customs union launched in January 2003. But Abdul Gaffar told reporters that suspending the customs union was not on the cards, despite the "administrative and technical hurdles" it had encountered since coming into force. The differences over the Bahrain-US trade deal were a subject of "consultations and dialogue," he said.

In his opening address, King Hamad said all Gulf countries were "continuing their gradual evolution approach, which comes from their will to have further reforms that the people of the region are expecting." Sources in the GCC general secretariat said the leaders were to sign the Manama Declaration today, which will call upon "all the people of Iraq to take part in the (January) elections and the political process."

The leaders will also call for "a central role for the United Nations in the elections," the sources told Gulf News. It will reiterate the GCC's position regarding the three UAE islands occupied by Iran. The statement would also express support for the newly-appointed leadership in the Palestinian territories, and the upcoming election process. (The Gulf News)


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