Gulf leaders gathered in Riyadh on Monday to discuss developing their six-nation council into a union, a Saudi proposal likely to start with the kingdom and unrest-hit Bahrain.
But the proposed union between the regional kingpin Saudi Arabia and the fellow Sunni-ruled kingdom of Bahrain has been slammed by legislators in Shiite Iran.
The exact nature of this union, first floated by Saudi King Abdullah in December, remains unclear, but Bahraini State Minister for Information Samira Rajab said it could follow the “European Union model.”
Pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat quoted a Gulf Cooperation Council official as saying that the summit might lead to a “declaration of intentions on a union between Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar” which Kuwait might join.
Remaining GCC members, the United Arab Emirates and Oman – whose respective leaders Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan and Sultan Qaboos are not attending the Riyadh talks – would later join the union, the daily added.
Bahrain Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman said on Sunday the “option of a (GCC) union has become urgent,” adding that these nations must cooperate to ensure security in the region.
“The summit will discuss all the points, including the points of union,” said Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa after preparatory talks in Riyadh on Sunday.
Bahraini Information Minister Samira Rajab said on Sunday: “I expect there will be an announcement of two or three countries. We can’t be sure but I have a strong expectation.”
The tiny island state, which like other Gulf states is ruled by a pro-US Sunni dynasty, has been wracked by a revolt among its majority Shi’ites for more than a year, after temporarily suppressing it in March 2011 with the help of Saudi troops.
The U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which patrols Gulf waters and key oil shipping lanes, is also based in Bahrain.
But the leader of Bahrain’s main Shiite opposition formation Al-Wefaq, cleric Ali Salman, said any union project must first be put to a referendum.
“The people of Bahrain alone have the right to” decide, he said, adding that the kingdom’s ruling “Al-Khalifa (dynasty) has no right to decide a union or confederation with any country.”
But Iranian MPs condemned the planned union, news agencies reported.
“Bahraini and Saudi rulers must understand that this unwise decision will only strengthen the Bahraini people’s resolve against the forces of occupation,” they said in a letter, referring to Saudi military support for Manama that helped crush a Shiite-led uprising in March 2011.
The letter, read out in the 290-member parliament and signed by 190 MPs, warned that “the crisis in Bahrain will be transferred to Saudi Arabia and will push the region towards insecurity.”
Shiite-dominated Iran has repeatedly voiced support to the uprising in Bahrain and strongly condemned a deployment of Saudi-led forces in Bahrain.
The GCC was formed in 1981 when the Sunni-dominated monarchies of the Gulf aimed to bolster security after the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran which was followed by an eight-year war between Baghdad and Tehran.