Mon, Dec 11, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Saudi king fears powder keg region

DANGER EVERYWHERE King Abdullah said the Middle East was rife with explosive situations, including internal conflict in Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority


Saudi King Abdullah warned on Saturday that the situation in the Middle East -- from the Palestinian territories to the Gulf -- was potentially explosive and likened it to a powder keg.

"Our Arab region is surrounded by dangers," said the monarch at the opening of a summit for leaders of the oil-rich Arab Gulf countries. "It is like a keg of gunpowder waiting for a spark to explode."

Palestinians were fighting among themselves, and Iraq "is about to slip into the darkness of strife and mad struggle," and so is Lebanon, King Abdullah said.

Following the Saudi monarch's speech, the leaders began a closed session.

The summit will discuss how to head off escalating dangers that threaten to spill over into the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, including the spiraling sectarian violence in Iraq and the nuclear standoff that pits a defiant Iran against the West.

The two-day GCC meeting in Saudi Arabia's capital, Riyadh, is also expected to discuss a US advisory panel's recent report and recommendations on Iraq, a Saudi diplomat said, speaking on customary condition of anonymity.

The GCC is a political and economic alliance gathering Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman.

The Iraq Study Group, the bipartisan US commission, released a report on Wednesday that called for the US to engage Syria and Iran in a diplomatic effort to stabilize Iraq.

Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal warned earlier this week that Iraq "poses a great challenge to the region, its security and its future" and called for "halting all forms of interference in Iraq" -- an apparent reference to Syria and Iran.

Each has ties with the major groups involved in Iraq's sectarian violence.

Iran has influence with Shiite Muslim parties that dominate the US-backed government and have militias blamed for much of the sectarian bloodshed.

Syria has links to Sunni Arabs, the main force in the insurgency, as the temporary home to many who have fled Iraq.

But both Iran and Syria deny supporting violence in Iraq. Iran Tehran is close to Shiite Muslim parties that dominate the government, while Damascus has ties to Sunni Arabs, their main rivals for power.

But Damascus and Tehran both deny US and Iraqi accusations that they support Arab insurgents and Shiite fighters operating in Iraq.

Kuwaiti columnist Youssef al-Rashed wrote Saturday he was alarmed by suggestions made by the Iraq Study Group because they could negatively affect his and other Gulf nations.

"If the US is unable to manage the situation [in Iraq] shrewdly, any sudden or premature pullout would result in a security vacuum that would affect us all," al-Rashed wrote in Kuwait's al-Anba daily.

Kuwaitis have expressed fears that the increasing Sunni-Shiite bloodshed in Iraq could spill over to their country that has a 30 percent Shiite minority. Similar concerns are shared by Saudi Arabia, which is up to 15 percent Shiite, and Bahrain, the tiny island kingdom ruled by Sunnis but with a Shiite majority.

Gulf countries also say they're worried about Iran's disputed nuclear program.

Iran is in a standoff with the West over refusing to suspend uranium enrichment.

The US and some allies allege Tehran is secretly developing nuclear weapons, and are pressing for sanctions against the Shiite Muslim country.

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