MANAMA, Bahrain — Leaders of six oil-rich Gulf Arab states Sunday signed a long-delayed mutual defense pact to fend off potential external attacks, but they softened anti-Iraq rhetoric.
The pact, the region's first, calls for the defense resources of Gulf Cooperation Council members Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar to be pooled. The six control more than half the world's oil reserves.
"This is the most important agreement signed by the GCC because for the first time it puts a legal framework to this type of cooperation," Bahrain's foreign minister, Sheik Mohammed ibn Mubarak Khalifa, told a news conference after the summit.
Officials said the pact by the council, which failed to defend member Kuwait when it was invaded by Iraq a decade ago, would also pave the way for increasing the number of soldiers in a rapid-deployment force formed in 1986 from 5,000 to 22,000.