Gulf ministers to debate regional aid package

Leaders of Gulf nations will meet in the capital tonight to discuss ways of helping each other reduce unemployment and build infrastructure.

ABU DHABI // The Gulf's foreign ministers will convene in the capital today with plans to create an assistance fund to tackle regional unemployment and build infrastructure, against a backdrop of recent unrest.

The meeting has added significance because of "the circumstances that the region is experiencing", said Abdul Rahman al Atiyyah, the secretary general of the Gulf Co-operation Council.

Bahrain and Oman, two members of the GCC, have witnessed protests in recent weeks. Demands in the two nations have ranged from constitutional reforms to measures to improve job opportunities and fight corruption.

"The security of the region is the most important issue," said Khaled bin Zayed, the former chairman of the foreign relations committee at the Federal National Council.

"How to deal with the issues that have appeared in Bahrain and Oman, offering support and assistance to them to fight unemployment and rising food prices?"

A Bahraini official told the Dow Jones news agency last week that discussions were continuing over an aid package for Bahrain and Oman, which derive less income per capita from oil exports than the rest of the GCC countries do. Such a package could be help boost social spending and create more jobs.

Mr bin Zayed said a collaborative fund to promote economic, social and security development in the Gulf would be valuable, adding that a one-off attempt to solve current demands would be ineffective.

He said such a fund would need to tackle issues from providing unemployment benefits to funding infrastructure projects and creating jobs.

"We want to feel the GCC is genuinely a Gulf Co-operation Council," he said. Decisions made collectively by the Gulf states carried more political clout, he added.

The GCC's finance ministers met in Riyadh on Saturday, with officials focusing on the latest steps the council is taking to create a Gulf customs union.

Gulf states have been largely tight-lipped on the issue of aid packages to Oman and Bahrain, while stressing their support for stability.

In statements before the conference, Mr al Atiyyah said the ministerial council would look at negotiations over trade agreements and strategic co-operation between the Gulf bloc and China, Russia, Australia and the United States.

Iran's occupation of the three UAE islands of Abu Musa, Greater and Lesser Tunb are also on the agenda. There has been intense diplomatic activity in recent days, with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad of Bahrain touring the region.

Meanwhile Sheikh Sabah al Ahmad Al Sabah, the Emir of Kuwait, has helped to mediate between the UAE and Oman to "clear the atmosphere" between the neighbouring countries following the arrest last month of what Oman alleged was an Emirati spy ring in the sultanate.

The UAE has pledged its support for Oman's security and stability after a meeting between Sultan Qaboos bin Said, the Sultan of Oman, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.

The UAE has also pledged support for Bahrain's security and stability.

The UAE and Kuwait have both begun sending aid to refugees escaping the violence in Libya, where rebels hope to end the four-decade rule of Col Muammar Qaddafi.

Tonight's meeting will be chaired by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs. The UAE holds the presidency of the GCC this year.

Published: March 7, 2011 04:00 AM


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