Gulf-EU meeting calls for Syria settlement
DUBAI: The Gulf Arab nations and the European Union pledged yesterday to pool their efforts to help convene a peace conference on Syria, as they wrapped up a one-day ministerial meeting in Bahrain. The gathering attended by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and the foreign ministers of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council also called on Shiite Iran to play “a constructive role” in the Sunni-dominated region. The ministers “reiterated the utmost urgency of finding a political settlement of the Syrian conflict,” said a statement issued at the end of the meeting.
They also pledged to “spare no effort in helping to create the appropriate conditions for a successful convening of the peace conference on Syria” which Russia and the United States have been striving to hold in Geneva. The GCC and the EU also took a swipe at Lebanon’s Shiite militant movement Hezbollah which backs the Damascus regime in the 27-month conflict and “condemned” its role “in military operations in Syria”.
The statement, however, made no mention of demands by Syria’s armed opposition for weapons to topple the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad. But Saudi Arabia, a key backer of the Syrian opposition along with fellow GCC powerbroker Qatar, insisted the European Union should “immediately” arm the insurgents. The EU “must immediately implement its decision” to lift an arms embargo on weapons destined for Syria’s opposition, said Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal. This, he said, was essential to offset assistance Damascus received from “Hezbollah and other forces backed by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards who get unlimited supplies of Russian weapons”.
The EU decided in May to lift an embargo on Syria’s armed opposition but it will only go into force in August. “The international community must ban the supply of weapons to the Syrian regime and demand that foreign occupation forces withdraw from Syria,” said the Saudi minister. Ashton told the gathering “we need to work harder together to find the political solution that will bring peace” to Syria and expressed concern about a spillover of the war into neighbouring Lebanon and Iraq. “We are extremely concerned about the plight of the people and about rising sectarian conflicts in Lebanon and Iraq, and we want to do our utmost to try and defuse tension,” she said.
On Iran, the GCC – whose members also include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates – and the EU expressed support for diplomatic efforts to end the row over Tehran’s nuclear program. They also urged Iran “to play a constructive role” in the Sunni-majority region where GCC leaders have repeatedly accused the Islamic republic of undermining stability.
On the economic front, Ashton said bilateral trade between the EU and the GCC increased by 45 percent since 2010 and was worth €145 billion annually ($188 billion). On Saturday, the European Union said the “promotion of human rights” was among issues Ashton would raise at the meeting to review economic ties and regional developments. Human Rights Watch issued statement on the occasion of the meeting urging Ashton to press Bahrain to release 13 opposition activists jailed in the Sunni-ruled but Shiite-majority Gulf state.
GCC looks for better relations with Iran
June 30, 2013
Manama: The GCC is looking for improved relations with Iran and to positive steps by the newly elected president Hassan Rouhani towards the region, Bahrain’s foreign minister said.
“The GCC countries have welcomed the election of President Rouhani and the statements about the situation in the region,” Shaikh Khalid Bin Ahmad Al Khalifa said.
The minister was speaking in Manama at a joint press conference with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton following a GCC-EU meeting.
“However, the situation remains explosive in light of the blatant interference in Syria,” Shaikh Khalid said, referring mainly to Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia. “We also have a history of Iranian interference cases in the region, but we do look forward to starting a new chapter. We hope Iran will have a role in pulling out all foreign forces currently in Syria.”
Relations between Tehran and most of the GCC capitals have been particularly tense over the last two years amid accusations by Gulf countries, mainly Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, against Iran of meddling in their domestic affairs. Iran has invariably denied the charges.
The busting of espionage networks in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia reportedly working for the Iranian intelligence services has compounded the situation.
Mistrust grew over the opposite stances that the two shores of the Arabian Gulf adopted towards the situation in Syria.
Shaikh Khalid that the GCC support in Syria was selective and meant to reach a comprehensive political solution that will lead to stability in the country.
The foreign minister said that the GCC stressed “the significance of assisting the Syrian people defend itself from fierce internal and external onslaughts.”
He added that the GCC looked at the Arab peace initiative as the way forward to have peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and all Arab countries with Israel.
The initiative will lead to establishing normal relations, like the ones between the different countries throughout the world, he said.
He added that the ongoing efforts by US Secretary of State John Kerry to re-launch peace talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis should be supported.
Shaikh Khalid said that the GCC, made up of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, looked forward to a stable Iraq.
He added that Lebanon was much bigger than Hezbollah and that it could not be allowed to become a hostage held by the “terrorist party”.
“We would like to continue working with Lebanon, its president and government and that the country will shake off its current situation,” he said.
The minister added that the GCC interior ministers were working on putting Hezbollah on the list of terrorist organisations.
Bahrain’s parliament has been pushing for the terror tag, a move endorsed by the government.