By Nawab Khan
BRUSSELS, June 28 (KUNA) -- The 27-member European Union and the six-seat Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are keen to deepen their relations, according to a senior EU diplomat.
Realities on the ground are pushing both regional groups to strengthen their coordination and cooperation in mutual beneficial ways, said the ranking diplomat, in exclusive remarks to Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) Speaking to KUNA in Brussels, the diplomat who requested anonymity, said the EU-GCC ministerial meeting in Manama, Bahrain, due on Sunday (June 30), is an annual event to take stock of the development of EU-GCC ties and discuss regional and global issues.
The EU delegation to the 23rd session of the GCC-EU ministerial meeting will be led by High Representative Catherine Ashton and Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmad Al Khalifa, will lead the GCC side as Manama holds the current GCC Presidency.
On Saturday, 29 June, senior officials from both sides will meet in Manama to prepare for the ministerial meeting.
"We are looking forward to a frank and interesting discussion on regional issues like Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, the Horn of Africa," noted the diplomat. The meeting will also tackle global issues like counter terrorism and fight against piracy.
On Iran, the diplomat noted that the EU at the moment has a "wait-and-see" attitude following the election of Hassan Rohani as the new President.
"He is the least of hardliners, a man of the system, within the system and his powers of manoeuvre is quite limited," said the diplomat and added that that "we shall be carefully listening to the GCC view on Iran." He pointed out that the two sides will take stock of various fields included in the EU-GCC Joint Action Programme, which was endorsed in 2010 by the EU-GCC ministers meeting in Luxembourg and which ends this year.
The EU side is interested to renew this Joint Action Programme which sets a number of key strategic areas and reflects the shared ambition of the two sides to reinforce cooperation.
The GCC is bound to the EU by a Cooperation Agreement dating back to 1988.
The diplomat said the EU will not raise the issue of a free trade agreement (FTA) at the meeting as negotiations are on hold due to differences over a clause regarding the imposition of GCC exports duty.
EU-GCC trade has increased in both directions and relations between the two groups are "developing on a healthy base," added the diplomat.
The GCC groups Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE. (end) nk.rk KUNA 280919 Jun 13NNNN