AT (AFP) - Gulf leaders meeting in Oman on Monday began an annual summit that is set to be clouded by differences over Israel's three-day-old onslaught against the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
Qatar has offered to host an emergency Arab summit on the crisis in Doha on Friday, although Arab diplomatic sources in Cairo were quoted on Monday as saying some states do not favour this.
After a preparatory meeting of Gulf foreign ministers late on Sunday, regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia made plain its strong reservations about the summit plan. "The ministerial council has not decided about the proposed extraordinary Arab summit, and has referred the matter to the emergency meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo on Wednesday," Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said after a marathon five-hour session. "There is no point in attending an Arab summit of statements, without having the right conditions for success and influence," the official Saudi Press Agency quoted him as saying.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit was quoted in press reports on Monday as saying such a summit "could be dangerous and subject to criticism, especially if it does not result in practical measures." The Arab foreign ministers' meeting now set for Wednesday was originally planned for Sunday, the same day as the preparatory meeting for the summit, but was rescheduled. Differences over Gaza threatened to overshadow the summit's original agenda, which was dominated by the six Gulf states' plans for economic integration and combating the global economic crisis.
At the summit opening Oman's Sultan Qaboos underscored the need to address the global financial crisis, calling for measures to stabilise oil prices.
"There is a need to establish a mechanism for stability in oil prices, in a way that it would not burden the consumer... and not harm the producing countries, while it allows their development plans to continue," he said.
The six countries together sit on 25 percent of the world's natural gas reserves and 45 percent of its oil reserves, and can afford to dip into their bulging treasure chests after crude prices hit record levels this year.
But Gulf leaders will be conscious of the impact on future revenues of the plunge in prices on world markets to less than a third of their July peak of 147 dollars a barrel.
Leaders are expected to try to agree a joint approach to the crisis and reaffirm plans for monetary union by 2010. However, this will involve only five of the six GCC members as summit host Oman has dropped out.
They will also have to resolve how to tackle the different currency pegs used by the five. Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates all have currencies pegged to the dollar but Kuwait is pegged to a basket of currencies.