KUWAIT CITY – Leaders of Arab countries from the Persian Gulf agreed Monday to form a pact to combat terrorism and praised Washington for planning to transfer power to Iraqis by mid-2004.
The leaders of the six Gulf Cooperation Council (search) states -- Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates -- ended a two-day summit with the agreement.
Council Secretary-General Abdulrahman al-Attiyah said the pact was a "big achievement that will benefit the Gulf and the whole world."
Officials did not give details of the pact or say when it would be finished. Details likely will be made public in Kuwait when the pact is deliberated by lawmakers, who must sanction it.
But the council's communique said members of the political and economic alliance "support every international measure to fight terrorism and cut the sources of its finances." The United States accuses many Arab charitable organizations of feeding terrorist organizations such as Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda (search) network, blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks.
The summit opened Sunday with Kuwait's prime minister, Sheik Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah, saying terrorism is "among the most grave dangers and challenges" facing the region.
Suicide bombers have killed 52 people and wounded more than 100 others in four attacks in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, since May 12. Islamic militants have also killed one U.S. Marine and an American civilian in Kuwait, a major U.S. ally, since October 2002.
Abdulrahman al-Attiyah, the GCC's secretary-general, said that "because the (rulers) are keen on enhancing security cooperation and coordination to fight terrorism, they have blessed the GCC agreement to combat it, and delegated the interior ministers to sign its final version."
Reading the final communique, al-Attiyah said the summit discussed common steps to "develop education curricula" according to studies carried out since last year. He did not say if this meant revising textbooks to eliminate words that sow hatred for Jews and Christians and encourage religious intolerance.
Kuwaiti liberals have been calling for this reform for years. Saudi columnists joined them after 15 of the 19 hijackers involved in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States were found to be Saudi.
Ayed al-Manna, an analyst, said he believed the leaders discussed reform, including how Islam is taught, but that they were "cautious" when it came to commenting publicly on such a sensitive topic.
Ali al-Tarrah, a staunch Kuwaiti liberal, told The Associated Press some words like "jihad (holy war)" and "infidel" are used in school textbooks without giving correct or alternate definitions.
"Why don't we explain jihad as the effort to improve our countries instead of (just) fighting against non-Muslims ... and why should we tell our students that infidels are those who are not Muslim," he said.
"We want religion school books to help ... build up morals and good behavior, not to instigate against other religions and cultures."
The Gulf states also praised Washington for planning to "accelerate the transfer of power to Iraqis," describing it as "a positive step in the right direction."
However, they urged coalition forces to "take up their responsibilities ... in safeguarding security and stability in Iraq."
Al-Attiyah said the GCC "strongly condemns the terrorist bombings that targeted civilians, aid and international organizations and diplomatic missions working in Iraq." It did not mention the daily attacks on U.S. forces.
The Gulf leaders also said they were committed to a policy of noninterference in Iraq's internal affairs, and they were urging others to do likewise.