By Arab News
By Ghazanfar Ali Khan
The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which transports its massive oil shipments and imports food in huge quantities for its growing population through the Strait of Hormuz, has urged the international community to ensure the most important energy-shipping lane stays open at all costs.
Abdullatif Al-Zayani, GCC secretary general, said on Tuesday: “It is the responsibility of the international community to ensure free navigation in that strategically important strait.”
Al-Zayani, who addressed European parliamentarians in Brussels Tuesday, said the Gulf states “will be working under the international law” on the question of Hormuz, the world’s biggest chokepoint for seaborne oil trade currently under threat of closure from Iran. In the Belgian capital on Tuesday, the GCC chief held wide-ranging talks with top NATO and EU officials including Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO secretary general; Matin Schulz, president of the European Parliament; and Catherine Ashton, EU high representative.
“The talks mainly focused on Gulf security and regional developments with special reference to Iran, the Middle East peace process, and ways to boost EU-GCC relations,” said Saleem A. Alwi, GCC spokesman. He said the two sides also discussed the situation in Syria, Yemen, and Palestine. “It was a very important meeting … The EU has had a lot of contacts with the GCC lately on several regional issues, especially Iran and Yemen,” said another GCC official, referring to Al-Zayani’s trip to Turkey.
The GCC chief will also travel to Germany where he will hold talks with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Feb. 3, said Malika Belal of the German Embassy. In Berlin, Al-Zayani will discuss regional issues as well as cooperation between Germany and the GCC as well as its member states. Al-Zayani will have a high-level meeting in the office of the German Federal Chancellor and take part in a discussion at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. “This is the first official visit by a GCC secretary general to Germany,” said Belal.
Speaking to members of the European Parliament in Brussels, Al-Zayani called for stronger ties between the GCC and the EU for the benefit of regional and global security as well as for economic prosperity. “The GCC-EU relationship is important and we should solidify our relationship to be able to face the international challenges,” he told the foreign affairs committee of the European Parliament. “The energy security is important, and we need joint efforts to ensure that our friends and allies receive the oil,” said the GCC chief.
Al-Zayani faced a number of questions from members of the European Parliament on Bahrain, human rights, the process of democratization in the GCC as well as the situation in Syria and Iran. Al-Zayani, who hails from Bahrain, said: “We in the GCC are very proud of how the issue was handled and resolved in Bahrain.” He noted that the Bahraini king wanted to find out the truth and so he formed a commission, which came out with some recommendations. These recommendations, he said, are now being implemented.
On human rights issues in the GCC, he said: “I think we are on the right path … Women have started to participate in many sectors, including politics.”
On Syria, he said the GCC supports the Arab League initiative. Al-Zayani said the GCC has taken several steps to strengthen the capacity of its armed forces and ensure joint coordination to address all threats such as terrorism, drug trafficking and cyber crime. Rasmussen praised the strong cooperation between NATO and the six GCC member states under the framework of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, said a NATO press release.
The NATO chief highlighted the active role played by the GCC in Libya.
Rasmussen noted the upcoming NATO Summit in Chicago would provide an opportunity for NATO to underline its interest in stability and security in the Middle East and North Africa and to enhance political relations and practical cooperation with countries in the region.