The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) -- an economic and political superstructure modeled along the lines of the European Common Market -- was launched by this week's Gulf summit in Abu Dhabi.
But the six Arab oil states -- Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, and Oman -- still have a long way to go on their road to unity.
Leaders of the six states, which produce 25-percent of the noncommunist world's oil, ended their summit with a final declaration, couched in vague enough terms to avoid a crisis on how to confront security threats, and with a joint Gulf action program.
Stressing a common heritage, culture, and set of problems and aspirations, the joint Gulf action program calls for the establishment of five ministerial committees to further the economic, social, and cultural integration of the six states.
Diplomats believe that the oil committee will have a particularly difficult job because of widely differing oil policies in the six countries. Kuwait is a leading price hawk within the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and a conservationist. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, is a proponent of a price freeze and of a high level of oil production.
"I will believe a coordinated oil policy when I see it," one senior ambassador said.
The oil committee, made up of ministers of foreign affairs, oil, and finance, will submit proposals to the next GCC summit scheduled to be held in November in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. But speaking to reporters May 27, Abdullah Bishara, the newly appointed secretary-general of the GCC and former Kuwaiti UN ambassador, refused to predict what the council's oil policy would be. "I do not have a crystal ball to tell you in advance what may happen in the future," Mr. Bishara said.
The secretary-general also refuted the argument that many of the smaller GCC members will be reluctant to coordinate oil policies out of fear of domination by Saudi Arabia, by far the largest oil producer in the GCC. "This is a council of equal members regardless of size, economic power, or location," Mr. Bishara said.
Within the GCC a further difference exists about what is more important: economic or military cooperation.Most Gulf states emphasize the economic aspects of the GCC and cannot repeat often enough that the council is not a military pact -- a message addressed to Iran and Iraq, both of whom view the council with suspicion.
But in a closing address to the summit, Sultan Qabus of Oman stressed that "taking care of security and stability in the region is essential for the creation of the right atmosphere for economic cooperation."
At his press conference, Mr. Bishara appeared to be taking the firm Omani position into consideration by stating that there is "no economic progress without stability."
The Omani position was a major bone of contention during the conference of Gulf foreign ministers that immediately preceded the GCC summit. Most Gulf states see their immediate security threatened by the unresolved Arab-Israeli conflict, the Islamic revolution in Iran, and activities in the Gulf of the secret services of Arab states.
But Oman, which shares a common border with South Yemen, the Soviet Union's closest ally in the Gulf, attaches priority to the Soviet threat. It defends its granting of military facilities to the United States by pointing out that its armed forces can not protect it from the threat posed by South Yemen.
Following the failure of attempts to wean South Yemen away from the Soviet Union with offers of financial aid, Oman's fellow GCC members appear to have changed tracks.
At a press conference May 27 Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al-Nuhayan, the President of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Abu Dhabi, revealed that the GCC members have agreed to come to one another's aid in case of emergency. Diplomats see this move as an attempt to offer Oman an alternative to its granting of military fa cilities to the United States.