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Backgrounder: GCC and its 29th summit
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10:28, December 29, 2008

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The 29th annual summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) will kick off in the Omani capital of Muscat on Monday.

The following is a brief introduction to the bloc and its summit:

Headquartered in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, the GCC is a political and economic alliance made up of six Gulf Arab states --Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman, Qatar and Bahrain.

The bloc was formed at a summit in the UAE capital of Abu Dhabiin May 1981 against the backdrop of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran and the Iraq-Iran war which broke out in 1980 and lasted till1988.

It aims at boosting wide-ranging cooperation between members through collective security, to guard against any outside threat and Islamic extremism. In 1984, the GCC created a collective defense force -- the Saudi-based Peninsula Shield.

Striving for economic integration, the bloc launched a free trade area, which later witnessed a six-fold increase in inter-GCC trade volumes. A customs union was established in 2003 and a common market came into being in 2007. Convinced by the success of euro zone, the Gulf leaders decided in 2001 to set up a monetary union and adopt a single currency in 2010.

GCC countries pump about 16 million barrels of crude oil per day and possess about 45 percent of the world's proven crude reserves.

The main functioning bodies of the GCC are the Supreme Council, the Ministerial Council and the Secretariat-General.

The Supreme Council is the highest decision-making body of the alliance, consisting of six heads of state. The council's yearly presidency rotates among the six countries in Arabic alphabetical order. The council meets every year-end. Unanimous approval is required for any key decisions.

The Ministerial Council is composed of foreign ministers or other ministers. It proposes policies, works out the agenda of the annual GCC summit and carries out the decisions.

The Secretariat-General, the administrative body of GCC's dailywork, is made up of a secretary-general and three assistant secretary-generals. The secretary-general is appointed by the Supreme Council with a three-year term. The incumbent is Abdul Rahman al-Attiya, a former Qatari Foreign Ministry official.

Economic integration and regional security are expected to top the agenda.

During their 29th summit, the six leaders are to thrash out an array of issues, chiefly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the situation in the war-torn Iraq, Lebanon-Syria relations, Darfur in Sudan and the Iran-UAE islands dispute, especially Israel's deadly attack on Gaza started from Saturday.

They are widely expected to announce a final roadmap for the Gulf monetary union, which involves the framework of a unified Gulf monetary authority and the single currency, and examine the implementation of the convergence criteria amid the current global economic crisis.


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