The first meeting of a high-powered panel studying the formation of the Gulf Union was launched in Riyadh yesterday. GCC Secretary General Abdullateef al-Zayani opened the meeting by underlining that the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has taken the first step to transform into a stronger union with the launch of the first meeting studying the new initiative. Al-Zayani said the Gulf states have started working on the proposal to form the Gulf Union, a provision explained in article four of the GCC charter. It was the opening session of the GCC Commission, which will study the initiative of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia to form a Gulf Union. The commission has three nominated representatives from each member state. The meeting was attended by several GCC officials and delegates besides some former GCC secretary generals. The opening session of the three-day meeting was chaired by Dr. Musaed Bin Mohammed Al-Aiban, the Saudi Minister of State and Cabinet Minister. Referring to the political unification to be preceded by full-fledged economic integration, which will eventually create an entity capable of handling strategic issues in the form of a GCC union, the GCC Secretary General said the world awaits further elucidation of the idea of a "single entity." "Despite great strides since its inception, the GCC''s integration is still a work in progress," the GCC chief said, while referring to the resolve of the GCC to map out strategy to unify the plans and policies of the Gulf states and eventually establish a union. "The Gulf states have forged closer political ties, military cooperation and security ties. This is in addition to the progress achieved by the GCC in terms of unifying its policies and plans in the fields of defense, human and environment affairs, judicial affairs, auditing, economy, agriculture and many other areas. "We are proceeding to a higher degree of harmonization in several areas," he added. In the beginning of the meeting, Al-Aiban welcomed the members and urged the participants to work hard to achieve the goal. He requested them to come up with ideas and develop mechanisms as well as executive steps that would make this initiative a reality after some time. A preliminary report prepared by the GCC Commission will be sent to the GCC Foreign Ministers, who will review the report during their meeting in March this year.