Leaders of six U.S.-allied Gulf Arab nations open two days of talks here Monday, dominated by their growing concern over Iran's disputed nuclear program, with one senior military official calling for greater Gulf cooperation in missile defense.
The annual summit in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, is held in the wake of the publication of leaked U.S. diplomatic memos that revealed deeper concern by Gulf leaders over Iran's nuclear program than had previously been expressed publicly - even a desire by several to see the United States destroy Iran's nuclear facilities.
The leaked memos give a sense of drama that is normally absent from the annual summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council, or GCC, a six-nation bloc that typically focuses on economic issues and prefers behind-the-scenes dealings to address disputes in their own backyard.
The summit coincides with the start in Geneva on Monday of a new round of nuclear talks between Iran and world powers and comes a day after Iran said it had delivered its first domestically mined raw uranium to a processing facility, claiming self-sufficiency over the entire nuclear fuel cycle.
The West says Iran's nuclear program is geared toward acquiring nuclear weapons. Tehran denies the charge, insisting that its objective is to generate electricity.
Ahead of the talks, a senior Emirates military commander underlined the need for a region-wide missile defense system, warning of the threat of ballistic missiles - a thinly veiled reference to Iran's missile program.
"We must be prepared to defend our people, our nation and our region against any emerging threat," Maj. Gen. Ali al-Kaabi, the UAE's deputy chief of staff, told a defense conference on Sunday, according to the state-backed daily The National.
"The threat of attack by long-range ballistic missiles remains clear," he said. "Many countries have ballistic missiles, some of which are working on weapons of mass destruction like nuclear, chemical or biological. If any of these weapons were launched, thousands or even millions of lives could be lost."
The Emirates is looking for the GCC to be part of the negotiations between Iran and the West - reflecting Gulf nations' feeling that they are directly threatened in the conflict.
"We are not part of the problem, but we want to be part of the solution," said a UAE government official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. "We cannot continue to live in the shadow of this threat."
The United States has sold Patriot missile defense systems to several Gulf countries, including the Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar - drawing complaints from Iran. Al-Kaabi's comments suggested a desire among some Gulf leaders to expand and coordinate missile defenses.
The Gulf summit, held at the opulent surroundings of Abu Dhabi showpiece seaside Emirates Palace Hotel, will also look into some of the long elusive issues like monetary union between member states as well as greater cooperation in defense and economic planning.
The threat from an increasingly active al-Qaida in Yemen, an impoverished and mostly lawless nation in the southern corner of the Arabian Peninsula, is also high on the agenda of the Gulf leaders from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman.
Al-Qaida in Yemen is blamed for a series of attempted terror attacks in the United States over the past year in addition to a failed attempt on the life of a Saudi counterterrorism official. The six Gulf nations are concerned that the group, if left unchecked, could turn more of its attention toward them.
Their fears of a spillover is compounded by the widely perceived unreliability of the Yemeni government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The six nations are grouped in the Gulf Cooperation Council, a loose military, political and economic alliance founded in 1981 in large part as a response to Iran's Islamic Revolution two years earlier and the threat that it could export its militant brand of political Islam to them.
The Emirates, the host, has a longtime territorial dispute with Iran over ownership of three Gulf islands currently controlled by the Iranians.
The summit, the 31st since the foundation of the GCC, comes amid the jubilation across the oil-rich region over Qatar's choice by the world governing soccer body FIFA to organize the 2022 World Cup, the globe's premier sporting event.
The choice appeared to help smooth some of the old rivalries between GCC member states.
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, whose country has often been at sharp odds with Qatar over foreign policy issues, described the surprise win as a "deserved and huge" achievement for the entire Gulf region and the Arab and Muslim worlds.