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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – Gulf monarchs gather on Tuesday, May 5, for an extraordinary summit, in the presence of French President Francois Hollande, as international concern grows over the war in Yemen.
The 6 Sunni-dominated Gulf Cooperation Council states meet in the Saudi capital with their region also threatened by jihadists, and amid concerns over a potential final nuclear deal with Iran.
Paris has been deepening political and economic relations with the oil and gas-rich Gulf monarchies.
Hollande arrived in Riyadh from GCC member Qatar, where he was present on Monday, May 4, for the signing of a 6.3-billion-euro ($7-billion) deal between French aerospace firm Dassault and Qatari defense officials.
The agreement includes an order for 24 Rafale fighter jets, with an option on a further 12.
His presence as “guest of honor” at the Gulf summit comes just over a week before the GCC heads of state travel to their traditional ally Washington for talks.
US President Barack Obama called that meeting to brainstorm on reducing regional conflicts and in a bid to allay Gulf fears over any US rapprochement with Iran.
Gulf leaders wanted Hollande to visit them ahead of the Washington summit to demonstrate that they have a faithful ally in France, “and they ask the same thing from Obama,” a senior French official said.
“We are now a major partner of the region,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Both Paris and Washington have sought to reassure the Gulf countries about an international accord being finalized over Iran’s nuclear program.
The Gulf is worried that Shiite Iran might still be able to develop an atomic bomb under the deal that would limit its nuclear capabilities in return for a lifting of crippling international sanctions.
Tehran denies any attempt to develop a nuclear weapon.
Before Hollande, the only other foreign leader invited to a summit of the 34-year-old GCC was Iran’s then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinajad, in 2007.
A day after the Gulf summit, US Secretary of State John Kerry is to visit Saudi Arabia before continuing to France for talks on regional security, a White House spokeswoman said on Monday.
The Riyadh summit brings together leaders from Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
All but Oman are members of the Saudi-led coalition that launched air strikes in Yemen in late March against Iran-backed Huthi Shiite rebels and their allies who seized control of large parts of the country including the capital Sanaa.
Hadi fled a rebel advance on his southern refuge of Aden, and is now in Riyadh. Anti-government forces have refused to concede territory or down arms despite international pressure.
International concern has grown over the war and its daily air strikes.
The United Nations says at least 1,200 people have been killed since March 19, and has repeatedly warned that already impoverished Yemen faces a major humanitarian crisis.
French aid group Action Against Hunger on Monday urged Hollande to push for a ceasefire, while Saudi Arabia said it is considering temporary halts in coalition air strikes to allow for aid deliveries.
Most GCC nations are also members of the US-led coalition bombing Islamic State group jihadists in Syria and Iraq.
The French presidency said a joint French-Saudi declaration touching on political, economic, strategic and military affairs would be signed during his visit. – Ian Timberlake, AFP / Rappler.com