Kuwait Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah opened the GCC summit here on Tuesday with a call for an end to the “human catastrophe” in Syria.
He issued the plea in the presence of Ahmad Jarba, leader of the main opposition Syrian National Coalition. Jarba addressed the summit and called for urgent help from GCC states.
“The human catastrophe continues to unfold in Syria ... We need to double our efforts and work with the international community, especially the UN Security Council, to put an end to this human tragedy,” Sheikh Sabah said.
Crown Prince Salman, deputy premier and minister of defense, who is leading the Saudi delegation, reiterated the Kingdom’s call to transform the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council into a powerful Gulf union.
“I am confident that the wisdom of Sheikh Sabah and other GCC leaders will have a big impact in making the summit a big success,” the crown prince said in an arrival statement.
He hoped that the summit’s resolutions would strengthen the organization and achieve its objectives, realizing the hopes and aspirations of GCC citizens through greater integration by becoming a union.
GCC Secretary-General Abdullatif Al-Zayani said consultations on the union are focused on achieving the objectives of the proposed union.
The GCC leaders were to discuss during the two-day summit a range of issues including the situation in Syria, ties with Iran and boosting economic cooperation between their countries.
Ties between GCC states and neighboring Iran have come under the spotlight after a landmark deal was reached last month between Tehran and world powers over its disputed nuclear program.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif last week toured four GCC countries, but not Saudi Arabia or Bahrain. Zarif tried to assure Gulf states that the nuclear deal was not at their expense and called for turning a new page in relations.
In his speech, Sheikh Sabah said the Gulf states had “expressed their satisfaction with the interim Geneva deal ... hoping it would succeed and lead to an everlasting agreement that would make the region peaceful.”
The summit is being staged amid differences over a proposal to upgrade the GCC into a confederation, a move Oman has publicly rejected. Omani Foreign Minister Yussef bin Alawi threatened at the weekend that Muscat would pull out of the alliance if a union was announced, while Saudi Arabia, solidly backed by Bahrain, insisted it was time to move ahead.
Kuwait’s State Minister for Cabinet Affairs Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah Al-Sabah told reporters talks over the union were still ongoing.
“When a consensus is reached, a special summit will be convened in Riyadh to make the announcement,” he said, ruling out a major declaration at the Kuwait meeting.
Details on the confederation proposed by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah during the GCC summit in 2011 have not been disclosed.
“Oman does not want to be a part of any measure that might be seen as directed against Iran,” Emirati political analyst Abdulkhaleq Abdullah told AFP. Muscat enjoys good relations with Tehran.
The GCC summit is also due to discuss proposed peace talks on the Syrian conflict in Geneva as well as a Kuwait 2 donors conference, both to be held next month.
Kuwait’s Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Khaled Jarallah said the GCC summit would back taking part in the so-called Geneva 2 talks scheduled for Jan. 22 at which a transitional government in Syria is due to be discussed.
Jarallah told the official KUNA news agency on Tuesday that the summit would approve setting up a unified GCC military command.