Gulf leaders at a meeting in Riyadh on Monday will discuss a Saudi proposal to develop their six-nation council into a union, likely to start with the kingdom and unrest-hit Bahrain, officials said.
The Gulf Cooperation Council leaders “will discuss a form of union between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain,” said a top Gulf official, requesting anonymity.
Bahrain’s state minister for information, Samira Rajab, revealed that a Saudi proposal to evolve the GCC into a union will be on the agenda of the Riyadh meeting, adding that the idea backed by Bahrain could start with two or three members.
“This union could start with two or three” GCC members, she told AFP.
When GCC leaders last convened in December, Saudi King Abdullah urged member nations to move "beyond the stage of cooperation and into the stage of unity in a single entity".
Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal has backed the proposal.
“The threats of all kinds necessitate a serious move by the GCC countries to cross from the cooperation phase to a unity that is acceptable for all,” he said last month.
On Monday that might prompt the establishment of two much-discussed Gulf commissions to coordinate foreign and defense policy - although a Gulf government official said these would likely be purely consultative and might not be announced until the next full summit in December.
Emirati analyst Abdulkhaliq Abdullah said the idea of a Gulf union was in the offing, expecting an announcement from the consultative summit “at least at a bilateral level.”
But he warned that the six members were “not all enthusiastic about a union,” as they struggle to shape an economic integration which has proved elusive ever since the GCC was founded.
Saudi analyst Anwar Eshqi, who heads the Jeddah-based Middle East Centre for Strategic and Legal Studies, said the Saudi enthusiasm for a Gulf union was due to “pressure from Iran,” which is accused of meddling in Gulf affairs.
The Gulf Cooperation Council was formed in 1981 when the Sunni-dominated monarchies aimed to bolster security after the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran and its war with Iraq.
The tension between Shiite Iran and Saudi Arabia escalated last year after Saudi troops rolled into Bahrain to help quell protests.
Tensions mounted further with the deadly clampdown on the uprising in Syria, whose President Bashar al-Assad is a staunch ally of Tehran, while Riyadh and other Arab states in the Gulf have called for the fall of his regime.
Tehran’s growing influence in Iraq since the withdrawal of U.S. troops as well as its territorial dispute with the United Arab Emirates have also contributed to fuelling cross-Gulf animosity..
Riyadh argues that evolving the GCC into a union has economic potential.
Such a union would turn the oil-rich GCC into a “solid economic bloc,” said the Saudi foreign minister, as the combined economic output of the group hit $1,400 billion in 2011.
But the GCC continues to face hurdles preventing the group from reaching goals set at its launch.
Only four members -- Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia -- have signed a monetary council agreement, and analysts said Gulf states still have a long way to go in their bid to launch a single currency initially slated for 2010.
A customs union launched at the start of 2003 for a three-year transition period has been put off until 2015, as issues of revenues, dumping and protectionism repeatedly delay its full implementation.