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GCC Summit Opens with Iraq High on the Agenda - 2002-12-21

With Iraq high on the agenda, the annual summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council opened Saturday in Qatar. Also on the agenda for the six member states are the political tensions in the Middle East and a much-awaited customs alliance. At the top of the agenda for the conference was the Iraqi crisis and unification of the group, in the event of war. Two council members, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, share borders with Iraq. A possible war against Iraq could have an impact on the group, which sits on a substantial amount of world oil reserves, both politically and economically.

Kuwait and Qatar are playing host to thousands of U.S. troops in the region, and Qatar's al Udeid airbase has been touted as a possible launch pad for any U.S.-led attack.

The group also brought up Saturday the issue of a recent apology from Saddam Hussein to Kuwait for Iraq's 1990 invasion of the country.

Representatives of the summit also are expected to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Another issue before the delegates is a new customs union. The council is expected to use the summit to jump-start the customs agreement, set to launch at the beginning of January. It would reportedly call for lower tariffs and create an avenue for other trade agreements.

The council is comprised of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman. The two-day summit in the Qatari capital, Doha, opened in the absence of four leaders. Most nations sent lower-level representation.