Gulf leaders gather amid differences over Gaza
Gulf leaders gathered in the Omani capital Muscat on Monday for an annual summit that is set to be clouded by differences over Israel's three-day-old onslaught against the Gaza Strip.world Updated: Dec 29, 2008 20:12 IST
Gulf leaders gathered in the Omani capital Muscat on Monday for an annual summit that is set to be clouded by differences over Israel's three-day-old onslaught against the Gaza Strip.
Qatar agreed to host an emergency Arab summit on the crisis in Doha on Friday and the meeting was announced in Cairo after talks among Arab League ambassadors on Saturday.
But after a preparatory meeting of Gulf foreign ministers late on Sunday, regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia made plain its strong reservations about the Arab summit plan.
"The ministerial council has not decided about the proposed extraordinary Arab summit, and has referred the matter to the emergency meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo on Wednesday," Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said after the marathon five-hour session.
"There is no point in attending an Arab summit of statements, without having the right conditions for success and influence," the official Saudi Press Agency quoted him as saying.
The crisis in Gaza, where the Israeli offensive has now killed more than 310 people since Saturday, had threatened to derail preparations for the Gulf summit.
The Arab foreign ministers' meeting, now set for Wednesday, had been planned for Sunday, the same day as the preparatory meeting for the summit, but was rescheduled.
The differences over Gaza threatened to overshadow the summit's original agenda, which was dominated by the six Gulf states' plans for economic integration and combating the impact of the global economic crisis.
The six countries together sit on 25 percent of the world's natural gas reserves and 45 percent of its oil reserves, and can afford to dip into their bulging treaure chests after crude oil prices hit record levels this year.
But Gulf leaders will be conscious of the impact on future revenues of the plunge in prices on world markets in recent months to less than a third of their July peak of more than 147 dollars a barrel.
Gulf governments have also seen the value of their international investments shrink sharply as stock markets have plummeted amid the credit crunch.
Leaders are expected to try to agree a joint approach to the crisis and reaffirm their plans for monetary union by a 2010 target date that they set at last year's summit in Doha, the bloc's secretary general Abdurrahman al-Attiyah said.
It will, however, involve only five of the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council as summit host Oman has dropped out of the monetary union plan.
The heads of state will also have to resolve how to tackle the different currency pegs used by the other five GCC members.
Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates all have currencies pegged to the dollar but Kuwait's is pegged to a basket of currencies.