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THURSDAY, 17 APR 2014
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Gulf Arabs urge foreign militias to quit Syria
Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz attends the 34th summit at the Bayan Royal Palace in Kuwait City, on December 10, 2013, amid differences over a proposed confederation and ties with Iran. (AFP PHOTO/YASSER AL-ZAYYAT)
Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz attends the 34th summit at the Bayan Royal Palace in Kuwait City, on December 10, 2013, amid differences over a proposed confederation and ties with Iran. (AFP PHOTO/YASSER AL-ZAYYAT)
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KUWAIT CITY: Gulf Arab states demanded foreign militias quit Syria and said President Bashar Assad must have no future role Wednesday, in a declaration his Iran- and Hezbollah-backed regime denounced as meddling.

Wrapping up a two-day annual summit in Kuwait City, the Gulf Cooperation Council’s leaders also 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.

The bloc “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 Shiite militias from Iraq and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement that are supporting Assad’s troops against Sunni-led rebels.

The GCC backed the opposition Syrian National Coalition’s decision to attend a Geneva peace conference, saying the Jan. 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 oil-rich nations said in their summit’s closing statement.

Coalition president Ahmad Jarba Tuesday urged the GCC “to tell the whole world that the Syrian regime will have no future in the country.”

In response, Syria strongly condemned the “inflammatory rhetoric of the council’s statement on Syria, particularly as countries in the council ... support and practice terrorism.”

“Those who participated today in the summit in Kuwait, first among them the Saudi regime, have contributed in large part to the killing of Syrians and the destruction of their country,” the Foreign Ministry said.

“Their sorrow about the suffering of the Syrian people is nothing more than crocodile tears.”

The Foreign Ministry described the GCC’s final statement as “nothing but lies and deceit, written by those who have the blood of the Syrian people on their hands.”

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, visiting Tehran Wednesday, urged all “responsible countries” to act to ensure the scheduled peace conference achieves positive results.

Russia, along with Iran, backs the Assad regime financially and militarily.

Lavrov arrived in Tehran late Tuesday for talks that officials said would focus on Geneva II as well as bilateral ties and Iran’s landmark nuclear deal with world powers.

“All responsible countries must do something so that Geneva II achieves a positive result,” Lavrov said at a news conference with his counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif, ahead of a meeting with President Hassan Rouhani. “Those who are against [such a result] show a lack of commitment faced with the demands of the international community.”

Lavrov repeatedly called Iran a “key player” that could help resolve the Syrian conflict and should be invited to Geneva.

Zarif repeated that Iran was ready to go to Geneva but “without precondition” and said the conflict should be solved by the Syrian people.

Brushing aside differences with Iran on Syria, the GCC praised the Iran’s overtures to Gulf Arab states.

The monarchies “welcome the new orientation by the Iranian leadership toward the Gulf Cooperation Council and hope it will be followed by concrete measures that would positively impact regional peace,” the statement said.

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 program 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 program.

Zarif toured the Gulf states last week to assure some of its governments the nuclear deal was not at their expense, while calling for a new page in relations.

Ties between some Gulf states and Iran have also been strained over Tehran’s support for Assad and a Shiite-led uprising in Bahrain.

This year’s summit was also held amid differences over a Saudi proposal to upgrade the GCC into a confederation. 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 – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – formed the Peninsula Shield force in 1982 as a 5,000-strong force, but it has since expanded to more than 30,000 troops.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 12, 2013, on page 8.
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