Arab leaders meeting in the Saudi capital Riyadh on Sunday said they intended to start a joint nuclear energy development program, a move certain to heighten concerns over a possible race for nuclear power in the oil-rich Persian Gulf.
Leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council concluded a two-day summit meeting on Sunday evening, agreeing to study how to proceed with development of such capabilities. At the same time, they called for a peaceful settlement of the crisis over Iran's nuclear program, which the US and some other Western nations say is for development of nuclear arms.
"The states of the region have a right to possess nuclear energy technology for peaceful purposes," the meeting's closing communique said, echoing Iran's insistence that it, too, has the right to peaceful nuclear technology.
Publicly, officials of the gulf council said the development of a nuclear energy program would help meet the rising demand for electricity in the region.
"Nuclear technology is an important technology to have for generating power and the gulf states will need it equally," said Prince Saud al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister.
"It is not a threat," al-Faisal said.
"It is an announcement so that there will be no misinterpretation for what we are doing," he said.
But analysts and officials said the announcement actually had quite a different purpose -- to warn the US not to acquiesce to Iran's nuclear ambitions as pressure grows on the Bush administration to reach out to Iran for help in stabilizing Iraq.
"The message is that the gulf countries will develop their own nuclear program if Iran is rewarded with the terms of the Baker-Hamilton report," Abdelaziz Sager, chairman of the Gulf Research Center in Dubai, who is familiar with the nuclear initiative, said.
"They are trying to say that if the Iranian program continues, you will force us to become nuclear-capable too," he said.
At a Persian Gulf security conference in Bahrain on Saturday, Manouchehr Mottaki, Iran's foreign minister, said that Iran was seeking only peaceful nuclear capability.
"The time of nuclear weapons is over," Mottaki said.
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