Gulf Summit Raps Israel, Not Iran on Nuclear Weapons Issue

One official says Gulf state leaders are concerned about Iran's program, but want to keep diplomatic relations open.

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U.S.-allied Gulf Arab leaders called on Monday for a nuclear weapons-free Middle East, but focused its concerns only on Israel, not Iran, despite having voiced alarm at Tehran's nuclear ambitions during their two-day meeting.

In a final statement, the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) focused on Israel's failure to join the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which Iran has signed.

GCC Secretary-General Abdul Rahman al-Attiya, who said on Sunday the meeting would call on Iran to shun nuclear arms, declined to explain why the statement did not mention Tehran.

But one Gulf official said it was because the GCC - which groups Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates - wanted to keep diplomatic channels open.

"They (GCC leaders) are very worried about Iran's nuclear program. They opted for diplomacy so as not to alienate Tehran," the official told Reuters.

The GCC settled instead for a reiteration of a previous proposal to "turn the Middle East, including the Gulf, into an area free of weapons of mass destruction."

The final statement said: "The council calls on Israel to join the NPT and to open its nuclear facilities to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency. It also calls on the international community to press Israel to do so."

UAE Foreign Minister Rashid Abdullah al-Nuaimi said Gulf countries were "extremely worried and concerned" by Iran's Bushehr nuclear plant, adding that if anything went wrong there it would cause extensive damage to neighboring countries.

Israel has never admitted it has a nuclear weapons program but is widely believed to have about 200 nuclear warheads.

Delegates said Iran's nuclear program had dominated the talks. A draft statement seen by Reuters had included a clause stressing the importance of Iran's cooperation with the IAEA but this was deleted from the final version read by Attiya.

Iran is locked in a standoff with the United States and Europe over its plans to resume critical nuclear activities. Tehran insists it only aims to produce energy, but the international community fears it is seeking atomic weapons.

Iran's nuclear program has added to tension in a Gulf region worried about instability in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led war to oust Saddam Hussein and by militant attacks by supporters of Osama bin Laden's al Qaida network.

On Sunday, Attiya said GCC leaders would discuss trying to broker a deal with Iran to make the region nuclear-free.

The final statement made no strong statement about Syria's disagreements with the United Nations over a UN investigation into the killing of former Lebanese premier Rafik al-Hariri, which delegates had said would also be high on the agenda.

"The council expresses its satisfaction with Syria's welcome of the UN resolution related to the (Hariri) probe," it said. "The council also reaffirms its keenness to maintain the sovereignty and security of both Lebanon and Syria."

The Gulf leaders hailed last week's parliamentary election in Iraq as a step towards maintaining the country's unity.



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