Integrating GCC defence, the Middle East peace process and defusing regional tensions dominated discussions by the six GCC heads of state at the 14th annual GCC summit that started in Saudi Arabia on 20 December. However, the effects of low oil prices on the region’s economies could not be ignored and prompted unscheduled meetings about the issue.

Joint security arrangements were a central topic, but the six states did not finalise plans to increase the joint Peninsula Shield defence force, GCC officials said.

‘The leaders discussed the security issue from all its angles including developing the Peninsula Shield joint force,’ GCC secretary-general Sheikh Fahim Bin Sultan al-Qasimi said. Proposals called for the 8,000-strong Saudi Arabian-based force to be tripled and integrated with naval and airforce units. Al-Qasimi said the issue had still not been finally approved.

The GCC leaders also discussed plans to integrate GCC air defences and set up a joint early warning system, a multi-billion-dollar project agreed by defence ministers in November.

King Fahd of Saudi Arabia did not refer to the effect of lower oil prices on Gulf economies in his opening address. But the issue was clearly of concern to the GCC leaders, and oil, finance and economy ministers of the six member states were called in to hold an unscheduled meeting on the fringe of the summit to discuss falling oil prices and co-ordination of oil policies.

Other topics for discussion included the Middle East peace talks, the prospect of easing the terms of the economic boycott of Israel, what the GCC leaders called continued Iraqi threats to the security of Kuwait and the territorial dispute between the UAE and Iran.

King Fahd urged Iran on 20 December to respond favourably to the UAE’s request to convene direct talks to discuss the dispute. Previous talks in Abu Dhabi in September 1992 failed to resolve the conflict. Diplomatic sources say that a solution to the dispute is regarded by many GCC states as the key to improving tense GCC ties with Iran.

The GCC leaders were due to issue a final statement at the summit’s closing session on 22 December as MEED went to press. They were expected to reiterate their support for the 13 September PLO-Israel peace deal and the peace talks between Israel and Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.