A FOUR-DAY summit meeting of Persian Gulf kings, emirs, and ruling sheikhs has ended with a clear signal that Iran should be included in any new regional security arrangement once Kuwait has been liberated. The summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Doha, Qatar, brought together rulers of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Kuwait. The council was set up during the Iran-Iraq war, when Iran was a threat to the region and Iraq its great protector.
Gulf leaders refused to spell out their thinking on a future regional defense arrangement, but said in their final statement that they were seeking an arrangement with Tehran. Qatari Foreign Minister Mubarak al-Khater, the summit spokesman, said the nature of security arrangements would depend on the military situation after the liberation of Kuwait.
Tehran opposes the stationing of foreign forces in the region, and has suggested that troops from the GCC together with Iran, Turkey, and Pakistan form a new pan-Islamic defense force to protect a liberated Kuwait. It is unlikely, conference observers said, that Gulf states would allow Iranian troops to be stationed in the Arab Gulf. But summit sources said they believe Tehran would eventually modify its position if properly consulted throughout the process. Regional observers, though, have expressed concern that the presence of United States-dominated forces would provide ammunition to the hard-line faction in Iran, thereby undermining President Hashemi Rafsanjani's liberal reform movement.
States in the region would still opt for Western forces as the best form of long-term defense, say Western diplomats in the Gulf. ``They may talk regional, think regional, but the truth is that they only have faith in Western forces,'' says a Western diplomat in Doha. ``But first we have to be invited, and second they have put up the tab.''
Although Islamic groups have already expressed opposition to a long-term US presence, conservatives argue that Western forces are necessary to fill the regional power vacuum in the event of the destruction of the Iraqi military machine.
``It is no longer a sin for Western troops to be here. There is a lot of talk in Tehran from the hard-liners, but we don't think it reflects official thinking,'' says Ahmed Jarallah, editor of al-Siyassah, a Kuwaiti newspaper. Mr. Jarallah says Western forces should stay five years in the area and he urged that a strategic defense alliance should be signed between Western governments and Kuwait for the state's long-term protection.
Although such arrangements appeared to dominate summit discussions, debate continued over the need for further efforts to secure a peaceful settlement. In a carefully worded statement, King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, the council's most powerful member, signaled that the region was willing to go to war if Iraqi troops were not withdrawn from Kuwait within 20 days.
``We wish the man whom we once looked upon as a friend and brother ally to know that the curtain has not yet been drawn on the scene of a scorching war,'' Fahd declared. It is still possible, he added, for President Saddam Hussein to spare his regime and his people the horrors of war and to pursue reconciliation.
The last minute appeal followed expressions of concern within the GCC that not every avenue had been pursued for a peaceful solution.
Oman is the only Gulf state that has continued contacts with Baghdad. Just two weeks ago, Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz visited Muscat, Oman's capital. Oman has also encouraged the mediation effort of Algerian President Chadli Benjedid, despite the Saudis cold shoulder to it.
The Algerian mission is trying to arrange parallel negotiations on the Arab-Israel conflict with the start of Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait. The Saudis, however, are said to be unwilling to endorse linkage to the Palestinian issue because it would allow Saddam to emerge as a hero of the Arab world after leaving Kuwait.