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Saudi supports GCC Economic Union

Saudi Arabia called on GCC leaders meeting in Riyadh to set aside their differences to make economic union a reality in the energy-rich region.
Addressing the opening session of a two-day GCC summit that will assess progress on a planned monetary union by 2010, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah said GCC countries were hampered by reservations and obstacles.

'We still have much to do before we can say we have achieved complete economic union ... the obstacles are real but we should not lose sight of the dream,' he said.
'Every country has had its reservations but united we will be a power that cannot be ignored.' The GCC groups Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

Before the start of the summit, a Gulf official said Oman has informed the states that it would not join the monetary union in 2010, but could enter at a later stage.
'They feel they are not going to be ready by 2010. Rather than delay the process, they want the other countries to move ahead, and they can join at a later date,' said the official.

Oman had recently cast doubt on the timetable for the single currency project, suggesting other nations shared its concern.

The six countries have agreed five criteria for European Union-style economic union, including capping budget deficits at 3 percent of gross domestic product, public debt at 60 percent of GDP and inflation at the GCC average plus 2 percent.
Interest rates are to be no higher than the average of the lowest three states plus 2 percent and countries must have foreign exchange reserves to cover 4-6 months of imports.

The summit is also expected to consider a proposal made last year to limit to six years the stay of expatriate workers -- a symbolic move that would pre-empt any international pressure to improve residents' rights by granting them nationality.
An estimated 12 million foreigners live in GCC countries and make up more than 80 percent of the population in some cases.

The summit will discuss sectarian violence in Iraq, Iran's nuclear programme and rising tension in Lebanon.

Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter and home to Islam's holiest sites, wants to check what it views as the creeping influence of Shi'ite power Iran in the Arab region through support for Lebanese group Hezbollah, Shi'ite parties in Iraq and Tehran's alliance with Damascus.

'Our Arab region is surrounded by a number of dangers, like a powder keg ready to explode,' King Abdullah said, adding that 'dark clouds' were threatening civil strife in Lebanon where Shi'ite group Hezbollah is leading efforts to bring down the U.S. and Saudi-backed government.

The GCC countries are mainly Sunni, with Shi'ite minorities, though Shi'ites are a majority in the island state of Bahrain.
The UAE has a long-standing dispute with Iran over three Gulf islands which are held by Tehran but claimed by the UAE.


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