tampabay.com

Gulf states to study nuclear program

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published December 11, 2006


RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - The oil-rich Arab states on the Persian Gulf said Sunday that they will consider starting a joint nuclear program for peaceful purposes.

The announcement comes as the United States and its allies allege Iran is developing atomic weapons in violation of treaty commitments and appears to be a muscle-flexing gesture. It also was sure to ratchet up concerns about a regional nuclear arms race.

Issued after a two-day meeting of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, the statement said the group "commissioned a study" on setting up "a common program in the area of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes," which would abide by international standards and laws.

The statement read by Abdul Rahman al-Attiyah, secretary-general of the political and economic alliance, did not elaborate on the plan by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman.

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, was quick to tell reporters after the closing session that the group did not want to be "misunderstood," saying its aim "is to obtain the technology for peaceful purposes, no more no less.

"Gulf states are not known for seeking hegemony or threatening power, they seek stability and peace," he said.

The area's Arab nations have expressed worry over the disputed Iranian nuclear program, which is the focus of a standoff with the West over Tehran's refusal to suspend uranium enrichment. Iran insists its program is for peaceful purposes, including generating electricity.

Also Sunday, the Associated Press reported that the United States and its closest Western allies may soon call a vote on U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran, even at the risk that Russia and China may abstain or veto the measures.

An unidentified U.S. official familiar with plans of the Americans, French and British said officials for the countries were talking about having a vote as soon as possible, the Associated Press reported.

He and other diplomats and representatives of Western governments spoke to the Associated Press anonymously.

The decision to risk a Russian and Chinese veto would reflect recognition by the five permanent Security Council members that they cannot agree on a common approach to dealing with concerns that Iran might be seeking to develop nuclear arms.

That would mean a serious setback to months of efforts by six world powers - the five permanent members plus Germany - to act in concert in getting Iran to freeze its uranium enrichment activities either through enticements or the threat of punitive U.N. action.