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Gulf states cooperate on defense, Iran and economic integration at summit

The Gulf Cooperation Council held their annual summit in Riyadh this week, indicating a degree of unity among Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other states on regional issues.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) held its annual summit in Riyadh yesterday. 

The GCC expressed unity on several regional issues at the event, especially on Iran. The GCC accused Iran of “fomenting sectarian strife” in GCC member states and supporting “terrorism” in Bahrain. They further condemned Iran’s alleged “support for sectarian terrorist groups and militias” in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. They specifically mentioned the Houthi forces in Yemen, according to an official summary. 

Iran supports the Houthi rebels against the internationally recognized government in the Yemeni civil war. A Saudi-led military coalition directly fights on behalf of the government. In Bahrain, the government regularly accuses Iran of supporting alleged terrorist groups in the country. 

The GCC also backed the United Arab Emirates in its territorial dispute with Iran over the Abu Musa and Tunb islands. 

At the same time, the GCC noted the “importance of members of the council participating in any negotiations with Iran” and of having relations with Iran in general. Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE have held talks with Iran this year with the goal of repairing their long fractured relationships. 

The summit also indicated the improved state of relations between Qatar and other Gulf states. The GCC praised the “success” of Qatar in organizing the 2022 World Cup, which will take place in Doha. The Gulf diplomatic rift ended in January when Qatar reconciled with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain. The countries have since re-established normal relations

The leaders also discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They condemned the “expulsion” of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem, which is a reference to the housing dispute the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. They further condemned Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s November visit to the Tomb of the Patriarchs aka Ibrahimi Mosque in the West Bank city Hebron. The site is holy to Jews and Muslims and there are longstanding tensions between Israeli settlers and Palestinians in the vicinity. The GCC also repeated its calls for a Palestinian state. 

The GCC additionally called for greater defense cooperation among member states. 

The meeting was not entirely political, and the leaders also went over ways to enhance economic integration in the Gulf. The GCC agreed to establish a Railways Authority to help set up a rail network between Gulf countries. They also voiced approval for speeding up the formation of a joint customs union. 

The GCC was founded in 1981. Its membership consists of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman. 

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