Joining other Gulf states in a diplomatic two-step

By , a staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

When the war between Iran and Iraq broke out in September 1980, the Gulf states were concerned but not necessarily displeased to see the two traditional powers in the Gulf clip each other's wings.

The Gulf states, despite their subsequent $30 billion in war aid to Baghdad, were pleased to see a lessening of a potential threat from Iraq on their northern borders.

At the same time, by contributing to the Iraqi war effort, the Gulf states were helping dampen the possibility that Iran would emerge as a dominating force in the Gulf, under Ayatollah Khomeini. Keeping the Ayatollah occupied on the Iraqi front might help prevent the stirring up of his Shiite followers in the Gulf states.

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It was in this atmosphere that Saudi Arabia moved in February 1981 to establish the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), comprising itself, Kuwait, Bahrain , Qatar, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates. It is a council of rich but weak states led by a vulnerable Saudi monarchy with ambitions of regional leadership.

The creation of the GCC underlines what was already apparent to the Gulf leaders, that the survival of the Saudi royal family is closely linked to their own survival. The Saudis, with their AWACS radar planes, F-15 fighters, and good relations with the United States, can offer each Gulf leader what he cannot alone produce - a credible deterrent to an Iranian air strike against oil fields or cities.

This has remained critical as a result of Iran's counterinvasion of Iraq last summer and its present efforts to overthrow the Hussein regime. Now, with the Iraqis on the defensive and President Hussein ready for any peace plan that maintains prewar borders and the survival of his regime, the Iranians are more determined than ever to press on until they topple Hussein.

Last month the Gulf Cooperation Council adopted the very conservative line of supporting Iraqi desires for peace and urged Iran to respond to mediation efforts by the Islamic Conference Organization.

There were press reports during the council summit that the Saudis were pressuring other GCC members to contribute to a $35 billion aid package for Iraq.

Council leaders were also said to be discussing a possible wider Arab military response from outside the Gulf if the Iranians mounted a critical threat to Baghdad.

Both Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates say publicly they are facing budget deficits as a result of oil production cutbacks. The U.A.E. has already contributed an estimated $1.5 billion to Iraq since the war began. Officials are now concerned not so much that additional aid would strain the U.A.E.'s economy - it probably wouldn't - but that it would strain relations with Iran.

The U.A.E. has maintained diplomatic relations with Iran despite the outbreak of the Gulf war and has attempted to maintain a dialogue with Tehran.

''The stability of the Saudi regime is essential to the stability of the region,'' a senior U.A.E. official said.

The provisions of the joint security agreement, largely drafted by Saudi Arabia, would include the extradition of criminals, establishment of a central data bank for the exchange of information, and the right to pursue wanted persons across the borders of fellow GCC states.

The security agreement was deferred at the Nov. 9 Gulf summit in Bahrain primarily because of the Kuwaitis' reservations. They are concerned about, among other things, granting the Saudis freedom to cross Kuwaiti borders at will.

The proposed creation of a GCC common market was delayed until March 1 after two of the members, Oman and the U.A.E., asked for more time to prepare for the transition.

Observers say the concern in the Emirates is that the U.A.E. would be besieged by the more sophisticated Kuwaiti and Saudi businessmen, who would crowd the locals out of their own country.

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