Gulf Arab states demanded foreign militias quit Syria and said President Bashar al-Assad must have no future role yesterday.
Wrapping up a two-day annual summit in Kuwait City, the Gulf Co-operation Council’s leaders welcomed what they described as the new Iranian government’s shift to a positive policy toward the six-nation bloc.
The GCC leaders also approved the formation of a joint military command, but postponed a decision on a proposed union.
Adopting a firm stance on Syria, the GCC “strongly condemned the continued genocide that Assad’s regime is committing against the Syrian people using heavy and chemical weapons”.
It called “for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Syria,” in a clear reference to Iran-backed Shia militias from Iraq and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement which are supporting Assad’s troops against Sunni-led fighters.
The GCC backed the opposition National Coalition’s decision to attend a Geneva peace conference, saying the January 22 meeting should lead to the formation of a transitional government with extensive executive powers and in which Assad would have no role.
“Pillars of the Syrian regime whose hands had been stained by the blood of the Syrian people must have no role in the transitional government or Syria’s political future,” the Gulf nations said in their summit’s closing statement.
In response, Syria strongly condemned the Council’s statement.
Brushing aside differences with Iran on Syria, the GCC praised the Islamic republic’s overtures to Gulf Arab states.
The states “welcome the new orientation by the Iranian leadership towards the Gulf Co-operation Council and hope it will be followed by concrete measures that would positively impact regional peace,” said the statement.
They also “welcome the interim deal signed by the P5+1 and Iran as a first step toward an inclusive and lasting agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme that would end international and regional concerns.”
While welcoming the nuclear deal, Kuwait’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled al-Sabah told reporters the Gulf states would “monitor the issue closely and through direct consultations with our allies.”
The GCC members, he added, had not requested to take part in negotiations for a final agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohamed Javad Zarif toured the Gulf last week to assure some of its governments the nuclear deal was not at their expense, while calling for a new page in relations.
Like Western powers, Gulf states fear Iran wants to develop atomic weapons under the guise of a civilian nuclear programme. Iran says the programme is for peaceful purposes only.
Ties between some Gulf states and Iran have also been strained over Tehran’s support for Assad and a Shia-led uprising in Bahrain.
Yesterday’s final statement said Gulf leaders had directed the ministerial council to continue consultations on the matter.
Sheikh Sabah told reporters that “consultations will continue until we reach consensus”.
However, the Gulf Arab leaders approved the creation of a unified military command “as part of efforts aimed at strengthening security and stability”.
No details were provided on the structure or duties of this command.
The GCC states – Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – formed the Peninsula Shield force in 1982 as a 5,000-strong force but has since expanded to more than 30,000 troops.
The Qatari Cabinet yesterday welcomed the outcome of the summit. Pages 2, 10
GCC Supreme Council congratulates HH the Emir
The GCC Supreme Council also welcomed HH the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and congratulated His Highness for assuming power in the country asking Allah The Almighty to bless him for further progress and prosperity to the state and people of Qatar.
It also voiced appreciation to HH the Father Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani and the tireless and faithful efforts His Highness has exerted for the development of the State of Qatar and further enhancing the GCC march and serving the issues of the region.
The GCC leaders decided to renew the mandate of GCC Secretary General Abdulatif al-Zayani for another three-year term, starting next April. They also renewed their appreciation of al-Zayani’s efforts and positive contribution to boosting the common march.
They welcomed the invitation of HH the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani to hold the 35th session of the GCC Supreme Council in Qatar next year.