Recent developments in the region until November 24

GCC ministerial council prepares for summit

Prince Saud al-Faisal asserts Iran threatening region’s security with its nuclear capabilities

Arab foreign ministers pressure Syria to sign protocol on observers

Jordan’s monarch discusses with Palestinian President Abbas future of negotiations

King of Bahrain vows reform, says “painful events” won’t happen again

SAUDI ARABIA:

The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud received a telephone call from King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of the Kingdom of Bahrain. During the conversation call, the bilateral relations between the two countries and the latest regional and international developments were discussed.

Meanwhile, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Member States held their 121st Preparatory Meeting for the 32nd Session of GCC Supreme Council.

The meeting was chaired by Prince Saud Al-Faisal, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, who is also the chairman of the current session of GCC ministerial council.

At the outset of the 121st Preparatory Meeting for the 32nd Session of GCC Supreme Council held in Riyadh this week, Prince Saud Al-Faisal, Minister of Foreign Affairs welcomed the GCC Foreign Ministers, conveying to them the greetings of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

In a key speech on the ceremonial opening of the meeting, Prince Saud Al-Faisal expressed thanks and appreciation to Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Foreign Minister of United Arab Emirates, for his great efforts he exerted during his presidency of the Ministerial Council, and which have contributed to push forward the joint work of GCC, and strengthen its political status and strategy.

He also expressed his thanks to the GCC Secretary General and his assistants in the Secretariat for their efforts exerted in this area during the past year.

Minister of Foreign Affairs said: 'During the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's presidency of the GCC Ministerial Council, I look forward to achieve more aspirations and achievements in favor of the GCC citizens, under the guidance and directives of the leaders of the GCC and with support of your Council; the relevant ministerial committees and the Secretariat'.

In his speech, Prince Saud Al-Faisal said: What happened and is happening in parts of the Arab world since last spring, carries with it the reasons of new cooperation and ongoing coordination based on a thorough study of the causes and motives of these events that occurred in some countries of our region.

'Thus, cooperation is urgently needed with the dynamics of this movement in a way preserving our region's security and stability and ensuring a natural growth and studied development away from any foreign dictates or intervention,', he said.

'Unfortunately, these developments coincide with the continuing crises that have become, unfortunately, part of the reality of this region, topped by the Palestinian issue where the stalled peace process due to Israel's intransigent policies and its refusal to comply with international legitimacy, in addition to the Iran's continued interference in the internal affairs of the region's countries, as well as its nuclear crisis and its quest to develop nuclear capabilities, enabling it in the future to have the nuclear weapon, which is a clear threat to the security and stability in the region with Tehran's going occupation of the islands of Greater and Lesser Tunbs and Abu Musa of the United Arab Emirates (UAE),' Prince Saud Al-Faisal added in his speech.

Prince Saud went on his speech saying that since its foundation in 1981, the GCC proved its ability to preserve the gains of its member states and its citizens in the economic, social and cultural fields, adding that many in the region and beyond are looking forward to the leading and pioneering role of the GCC to contribute to maintaining security and stability in the region in light of the serious developments the region has witnessed during the lifetime of the Council.

He pointed out to the important contributions the GCC had achieved during past year in Yemen, Libya, Syria and elsewhere.

'We have seen today the signing of the GCC initiative to resolve the crisis between the brothers in Yemen and we hope that this signature would put an end to the era of conflict and be the beginning of the return of fraternal Yemen to its previous status as the cradle of civilizations and that its people enjoy security and stability and achieve their ambitions and aspirations to build a prosperous future,' Minister of Foreign Affairs said.

He added that under the circumstances and events in our region, the attention will be focused on the upcoming summit, requiring good preparation for it in order to achieve more in the GCC blessed march.

Prince Saud Al-Faisal concluded his speech hailing the transparent and honest report of independent enquiry released in the Kingdom of Bahrain.

He said that GCC Member States don't aim to achieve any expansionist interests, special goals, or interference in the internal affairs of other countries.

However, they are resolved and capable of protecting their peoples and their gains in the face of what they may encounter of plots or terrorist acts contradicted with the simplest Islamic values and the principles of international legitimacy, Prince Al-Faisal, who is Chairman of the current session of the Ministerial Council of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Member, asserted.

This came during a joint press conference for Al-Faisal with the Secretary General of the GCC Dr. Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani following the 121st meeting of the 32nd session of GCC ministerial council to prepare for the coming summit of the GCC leaders.

Minister of Foreign Affairs made clear that the next summit of GCC leaders will take place in coincidence with the deep changes and transformations with their decisive effects the region is now witnessing and also coincidence with the ongoing global financial crisis which negatively affected all countries all over the world.

Events have proved that the cooperation among GCC member countries increases its solidness, immunity, unity and aptitude to take the initiative to reactivate Arab negotiation and to develop it, Al-Faisal added.

He said also that in order to tackle efficiently the arising crises facing Arab countries, to cope with legitimate aspirations of Arab peoples in freedom, justice and human dignity and to support the struggle of the Palestinian people to gain its legitimate national rights, ahead of all, establishing its independent state with Al-Quds as its capital.

In his statements in the press conference, Prince Saud Al-Faisal went on stating that the GCC ministerial council is also taking the initiative to prevent Arab bloodshed, seek possible peaceful solutions capable of defending Arab interests and to stop it from deteriorating into devastating civil wars.

We have already witnessed hours ago the singing of a GCC sponsored-accord to end the crisis in Yemen, and hope that it would put an end to the strife and take Yemen back to its previous status as the cradle of civilizations, Prince Al-Faisal said to the reporters.

Minister of Foreign Affairs added that GCC Member States confirm their full commitment to their Arab, Islamic and international responsibilities and extend their hands, sincerely, to their brothers, neighbors and friends for cooperation in order to achieve good and peace as well as common interests of peoples, hoping that other parties will respond positively to this faithful wish.

On sponsoring an accord to end the Syrian crisis, like what was made for Yemen, Prince Al-Faisal answered that 'GCC Secretary General is present and the accord concluded is available. If they ask for a likewise, we are ready to put it forward. We hope such a development would happen, but you cannot impose any thing, that was, in fact, what have been done by the Arab League, it forwarded a framework to solve the crisis and asked for a dialogue to discuss how to realize that solution.'

Syria declared it accepted the Arab suggestion of framework of an accord, but in its letter of acceptance sent later on, it changed the whole framework of the accord, a matter the Arab League Secretary General couldn't say anything to the ministerial committee assigned to follow up the situation in Syria because he has no mandate in this regard, thus the Arab League efforts stopped, and, hence, the Arab League Secretary General asked the ministerial council to convene, he added.

Prince Al-Faisal also warned that Arab failure to solve the Syrian crisis, themselves, will jeopardize it to the impact of internationalization.

On the attempt plot to murder the Saudi Ambassador to Washington, Minister of Foreign Affairs stressed that the threat is not only directed to the Kingdom but also to the international law, Geneva conventions and simply to the very basis of diplomatic relations, it's a flagrant breach to all aforementioned accords.

U.N. strongly supported this complaint and we hope it may follow the suit in taking concrete actions to thwart recurrence of such an attempt, taking into consideration that this is not the first breach by Iran which used to storm and break in foreign embassies, Prince Saud Al-Faisal said.

On the situation in Egypt, he asserted that: 'This is an Egyptian internal affair and I have no comment on it'.

Answering a question on consultations with Jordan and Morocco on GCC membership, Prince Saud Al Faisal said there are gradual steps in the relationships to reach the full membership.

And when the European Union jumped on the relations, it got problems, as we see today the example of Greece, he said, adding that many European Union member countries say that Greece should not be joined the European Union and we do not want to repeat such mistake.

We want to follow gradual steps that make the laws and regulations identical in curricula and citizenship and that is the most important element of rapprochement among the countries to have carefully agreed and studied programs to the way to full membership, Prince Saud Al-Faisal said.

He pointed out that there are committees in all areas of cooperation with Morocco and Jordan and it was agreed to support the two countries in order to equal the standard of living among the GCC countries and the two countries alike.

In his press conference, Prince Saud Al-Faisal also said that the GCC council reviewed the situation in Bahrain following the release of an independent enquiry report forwarded by a group of prominent statesmen renowned for impartiality, to the King of Bahrain, in a full transparency, who in turn answered transparently and sincerely all raised questions to enjoy the admire of all parties.

We congratulate Bahrain, for its leadership and congratulate ourselves to have Bahrain amongst in the GCC, Minister of Foreign Affairs confirmed.

On Libya, Prince Saud Al-Faisal said, of course, there would be exchange of ambassadors with Libya, following the formation of a new government there, and relations will be normalized.

On replying to a question on the recent killing of a Saudi citizen in Syria, he pointed out that the youth has been accused as a terrorist and that his tomb has been exhumed, in flagrant contrast to the both Islamic and Arab values.

We ask Saudi nationals, who may face mistreatment, to come back home and furthermore, I urge Saudi nationals whom destination is Syria, now, to avoid traveling to this country and change their destination, Prince Saud Al-Faisal said.

SYRIA:

Syria faces a Friday deadline to sign an Arab deal allowing monitors into the country or incur sanctions over its crackdown on protests including halting flights, curbing trade and stopping deals with the central bank.

Arab foreign ministers warned in Cairo that unless Syria agreed to let the monitors in to assess progress of an Arab League plan to end eight months of bloodshed, officials would consider imposing sanctions on Saturday.

Under a November 2 Arab League initiative, Syria agreed to withdraw troops from urban centers, release political prisoners, start a dialogue with the opposition and allow monitors and international media into the country.

Since then hundreds of people, including civilians, security forces and army deserters, have been killed as the unrest which the United Nations says has claimed at least 3,500 lives since March continued unabated.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based opposition group, said at least 47 people were killed in Syria on Thursday, including 16 soldiers and 17 army deserters, mostly around the rebellious city of Homs and near the town of Rastan to the north.

The violence has prompted former ally Turkey to bluntly tell President Bashar al-Assad to step down and led France to propose "humanitarian corridors" in Syria to help transport medicines or other supplies to civilians in need.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé said he would discuss the idea with the Arab League but a source at the 22-member body said the proposal was not brought up at the Cairo meeting.

"In the case that Syria does not sign the protocol ... or that it later violates the commitments that it entails, and does not stop the killing or does not release the detainees ... (Arab League officials) will meet on Saturday to consider sanctions on Syria," the Arab ministers said in a statement.

They said possible sanctions, which were not intended to affect ordinary Syrians, included suspending flights to Syria, stopping dealings with the central bank, freezing Syrian government bank accounts and halting financial dealings.

They could also decide to stop commercial trade with the Syrian government "with the exception of strategic commodities so as not to impact the Syrian people," the statement said.

Syria's economy is already reeling from the eight months of unrest, aggravated by U.S. and European sanctions on oil exports and several state businesses.

After months in which the international community has seemed determined to avoid direct entanglement in a core Middle East country, the diplomatic consensus seems to be changing.

The Arab League suspended Syria's membership two weeks ago, while this week the prime minister of neighboring Turkey - a NATO member with the military wherewithal to mount a cross-border operation - told Assad to quit and said he should be mindful of the fate of fallen dictators such as Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Libya's deposed leader Muammar Gaddafi.

France became the first major power to seek international intervention in Syria when it called for "humanitarian corridors" in Syria to alleviate civilian suffering.

A Western diplomatic source said the French plan, with or without approval from Damascus, could link Syrian civilian centers to the frontiers of Turkey and Lebanon, to the Mediterranean coast or to an airport.

Its aim would enable transport of humanitarian supplies or medicines to a population that is suffering.

Juppé insisted the plan fell short of a military intervention, but acknowledged that humanitarian convoys would need armed protection.

"There are two possible ways: That the international community, Arab League and the United Nations can get the regime to allow these humanitarian corridors," he told French radio. "But if that isn't the case we'd have to look at other solutions ... with international observers."

Asked if humanitarian convoys would need military protection, he said: "Of course... by international observers, but there is no question of military intervention in Syria."

The Syrian Observatory said 15 army deserters were killed in clashes with the military west of Rastan and in raids by security forces. Eleven military and security personnel were killed by army deserters in the city of Houla, it said.

Alongside the mainly peaceful protests, armed insurgents have increasingly attacked military targets in recent weeks. State media have reported the funerals of 34 soldiers and police in the last four days. Since the outbreak of the uprising officials have blamed armed groups for the violence and say 1,100 members of the security forces have been killed.

"The Syrian crisis may or may not have entered its final phase, but it undoubtedly has entered its most dangerous one to date," the International Crisis Group said.

"Many in Syria and abroad are now banking on the regime's imminent collapse and wagering that all then will be for the better. That is a luxury and optimism they cannot afford."

Washington repeated an appeal on Wednesday for U.S. citizens to leave Syria: "The U.S. Embassy continues to urge U.S. citizens in Syria to depart immediately while commercial transportation is available," the embassy said on its website.

Assad, 46, seems prepared to fight it out, playing on fears of a sectarian war if Syria's complex ethno-sectarian mosaic shatters and relying on support of senior officials and the military to suppress the protests, inspired by Arab uprisings which toppled the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.

However many experts say Assad, who can depend mainly on the loyalty of two elite units dominated by his Alawite minority community, cannot maintain current military operations without cracks emerging in the mainly Sunni Muslim army.

JORDAN:

Jordan's King Abdullah II held talks in Ramallah on Monday with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas on his first visit to the West Bank in more than a decade.

The rare visit came just days ahead of a key summit between the rival Palestinian movements Fatah and Hamas, which are looking to cement a stalled unity deal that has drawn fierce opposition from Israel and Washington.

It was the first time the monarch visited the West Bank's political capital since August 2000, and came before the Palestinian leader was due in Cairo later this week to meet exiled Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal.

But officials said little about the reasons behind the high-level visit, which saw the Jordanian monarch flying in by helicopter for a brief stay of little more than two hours.

"This was an important and historic visit with a message of support," Abbas told reporters after the king's departure, without revealing what was discussed. "We thank the king for his strong support for the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian cause particularly at this time."

"The meeting with his majesty the king is a continuation of our dialogue," Abbas said, noting that the talks also came shortly before Abdullah travels to Europe and the United States.

"Israel's settlement policies obstruct peace effort. They do not help in building trust between the Palestinians and Israelis," Jordan's state-run Petra news agency quoted the king as telling Abbas before returning to Amman.

Speaking to reporters while the two leaders held closed-door talks, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh expressed support for both the Palestinians' UN membership bid and for moves to cement a unity deal between Hamas and Fatah.

"The king has always said that strength comes from unity of the Palestinian front," he said.

Standing beside him, Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Malki said reconciliation was of the greatest importance. "For us there is no greater interest than reconciliation and the end of the division," he said.

Earlier, Abbas adviser Nimr Hammad said the two sides would discuss "all the political developments between us and the international community in order reach a common Palestinian-Jordanian understanding on the issues."

Talks had been expected to touch on the Palestinian bid to secure full state membership at the United Nations, and on the upcoming Hamas-Fatah meeting in Cairo -- both of which have met with strong US and Israeli opposition.

Under terms of their unity deal, Fatah and Hamas were to piece together an interim government of politically unaffiliated technocrats who would prepare for presidential and legislative elections within a year.

But the caretaker government was never formed, with the two sides bickering over its composition and over who would take up the role of premier.

However, the two factions appear to have reached some form of agreement which is likely to be made public after they meet in the Egyptian capital, Palestinian officials say.

Abdullah paid his first visit to the Palestinian territories in May 1999, just months after being crowned king, meeting the late Yasser Arafat in Gaza. In April 2000, he made a first visit to Ramallah and returned four months later.

A senior Israeli official, who said they were not informed of Abdullah's plans, welcomed the latest West Bank visit.

"We have repeatedly called in the past for Arab leaders to travel to Ramallah in order to strengthen the peace process.

Unfortunately, almost none of them have come," he told AFP on condition of anonymity.

BAHRAIN:

The king of Bahrain has promised reforms to prevent abuses by security forces, after an independent report about a crackdown on protests said authorities had used "excessive force".

King Hamad expressed "dismay" at the findings and vowed to ensure "those painful events won't be repeated".

The much-awaited report into the events in February and March said a number of detained protesters had been tortured.

More than 40 people died in the unrest, which some officials blamed on Iran.

Bahrain has a majority Shiite Muslim population and the violence has fuelled anger against the ruling Sunni royal family and political elite.

More than 1,600 people have been arrested during the protests, which have continued sporadically since the peak of the unrest eight months ago.

The summary of the 500-page report was presented by the Bahrain Independent Commission at King Hamad's palace in Manama on Wednesday.

The head of the commission, Professor Cherif Bassiouni, said investigations had found officials "used excessive force". Many detainees were subjected to "physical and psychological torture", he said.

Inmates, he added, had been blindfolded, whipped, kicked, given electric shocks and threatened with rape to extract confessions.

Prof Cherif said the evidence seen by the commission "did not prove a clear link between the events in Bahrain and Iran".

He also stressed that it was a "unique and historic" event - the first time a state in the region had voluntarily and without international pressure investigated unrest in its own country.

Prof Cherif is a former UN human rights lawyer. The other commission members are all non-Bahrainis.

The inquiry interviewed more than 5,000 people, including hundreds who say they were tortured in prison.

The king, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah, heard the report sitting on a red and gold throne in front of an audience of nearly 1,000 people.

He stressed that he never again wanted to see Bahrain paralyzed by "intimidation and sabotage", adding: "Nor do we want, ever again, to discover that any of our law enforcement personnel have mistreated anyone."

He promised to reform Bahrain's laws to protect freedom of speech and other basic rights.

"We do not want ever again to see civilians tried anywhere else but in ordinary courts," he said.

The monarch said the report opened "a new page" in Bahrain's history, promising to sack those officials who had abused their power.

If the king acts to change the way the country is run, then the outcome could be positive, the BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Bahrain reports, adding if not, then more violence is likely to lie ahead.