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Gulf union may go ahead without Oman: Bahrain minister

Proposal to upgrade cooperative framework on GCC summit agenda

Image Credit: Supplied
Ganem Al Bu Ainain
Gulf News

Manama: A union between the states comprising the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) will be on the table at the summit to be hosted by Bahrain next month.

However, the Gulf union could be launched without the participation of Oman, a founding member of the GCC alongside Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

“The proposal to launch the Gulf union will be on the agenda of the summit that bring together the leaders of the GCC,” said Ganem Al Bu Ainain, Bahrain’s Minister of Parliament Affairs. “The position of Oman vis-a-vis the union is well known and respected, but this should not freeze us. There might be a Gulf union and a Gulf Cooperation Council for those interested in the formulas. However, the Gulf union, if it is established, will be much more advanced than the cooperation council. This means that the countries that join the union through political and economic measures will be in a more advanced status than those limited to cooperation,” Bu Ainain told London-based Al Hayat daily.

The minister noted that Oman’s Sultan Qaboos Bin Saeed is the only one from among the six founding leaders who signed the GCC charter who is still alive. The charter establishing the union was signed in Abu Dhabi in 1981. The other five leaders have since passed away.

“There is no doubt that Oman’s wisdom is indispensable, but we must not stand at one point, and I think there are always solutions that can lead us to the union,” Bu Ainain said.

In December 2011, the then king of Saudi Arabia Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz called on the GCC states to move from the phase of cooperation to the phase of union within a single entity.

King Abdullah’s call at the GCC summit was welcomed by the six member states, but some of them requested more time to study the finer details.

Officials in Riyadh and Manama in particular, have been openly enthusiastic about the union and Bahrain has often said that it is ready to join the union. However, Oman expressed reservations about the union but, in December 2013, its foreign minister bluntly rejected it.

“We are against a union. Our position is a positive one, not negative. We are against a union, but we will not prevent it,” Yousuf Bin Alawi said at a conference in Manama.

In the wake of the hesitation of some to upgrade the cooperative framework into a union, observers said that some of the member countries could set up a core union of two or more states and that the other members could join later at their own pace.

With Bahrain getting ready to host the summit in December, several officials and citizens of Gulf states argued that the union should be on the agenda.

Bu Ainain told Al Hayat that as the Bahraini member of the committee tasked with implementing GCC summit decisions, he sensed “great enthusiasm for the union from the other Gulf members”.

He added that the security drills held recently in Bahrain were a clear message from the GCC about their collective commitment.

“The target was Iran because we in the GCC have identified our current enemy and it is Iran. We do not create enemies, but their stances towards Bahrain and their interference in its domestic affairs are very clear and cannot be misunderstood. The GCC drills, a consolidation of the GCC common action started in Bahrain in 2011, were highly successful,” he said.