Qatar denies inviting Iran to GCC summit
Riyadh, September 3, 2008
Qatar denied late on Tuesday intense media speculation that it had invited Iran to attend a summit of US-allied Gulf Arab states this year.
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made a surprise appearance at the annual meeting of leaders of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in the Qatari capital Doha last December.
Gulf Arab media have speculated that Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the ruler of Qatar which currently holds the presidency of the GCC bloc, invited the Iranian leader to attend this year's summit in Oman during a recent visit to Tehran.
Gulf Arab countries, all Sunni-led allies of the United States, are concerned about Iran's nuclear energy programme and the spreading political influence of their non-Arab, Shi'ite Muslim neighbour across the Middle East region.
'His Highness's visit [to Iran] was not intended to extend an invitation,' Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani told reporters after a meeting of GCC foreign ministers in the Saudi city of Jeddah late on Tuesday.
'If there were to be an invitation, the host state would provide it.'
The GCC is a loose bloc of oil-rich Gulf Arab countries comprising the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain.
Relations between GCC countries and Iran have been strained recently over Iran's control over the Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunb islands, located near key shipping lanes in the Gulf. They are claimed by the UAE with broad Arab support.
Some GCC countries have significant Shi'ite Muslim communities and are keen to maintain good relations with Tehran to avoid discontent at home. - Reuters