GCC and Britain to expand security cooperation
London - Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members and Britain plan to work together to counter Iran’s “destabilising activities” in a new strategic partnership.
British Prime Minister Theresa May, who attended the annual GCC summit December 6th-7th in Bahrain, stressed that the threat posed by Iran was clear and that Britain would work with Gulf Arab countries to counter Tehran’s “aggressive regional actions”.
“As we address new threats to our security, so we must also continue to confront state actors whose influence fuels instability in the region,” May said during a speech at the summit.
“I want to assure you that I am clear-eyed about the threat that Iran poses to the Gulf and the wider Middle East.”
Cooperation in the war against terrorism also factored heavily in May’s meetings with Gulf Arab leaders. “Gulf security is our security,” she said in her speech, stressing that extremists were plotting attacks in Europe as well as the GCC.
“Whether we are confronting the terrorism of al-Qaeda or the murderous barbarity of Daesh, no country is a more committed partner for you in this fight than the United Kingdom,” May said, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State (ISIS).
May said Britain would invest more than $3.21 billion in defence spending in the Gulf, more than in any other region.
A statement released at the end of the summit said that, besides security and military cooperation, increased trade would also be sought between London and GCC members.
“The leaders agreed to launch the GCC-UK Strategic Partnership to foster closer relations in all fields, including political, defence, security and trade, as well as enhancing people-to-people contact and developing collective approaches to regional issues to advance their shared interest in stability and prosperity,” the statement said.
May’s visit came at a time of economic challenges for both Britain and the GCC. May is facing increasing pressure at home over Brexit in which Britain will leave the European Union. Unsure what post- Brexit trade relations will look like with the rest of Europe and facing an uncertain foreign policy from Donald Trump as US president, Downing Street may be looking for trade victories in the Middle East.
Due to low oil prices, the GCC established significant austerity measures and began economic initiatives intended to diversify its members’ oil-heavy economies. Analysts said a recent agreement among members of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to cut production in an attempt to boost crude oil prices would assist Arabian Gulf countries in their diversification efforts.
As May returned to London, comments by British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson during a conference in Milan surfaced in which he accused Iran and Saudi Arabia of engaging in a regional proxy war. He was subsequently rebuked by May.
“You’ve got the Saudis, Iran, everybody, moving in and puppeteering and playing proxy wars and it is a tragedy to watch it,” Johnson said in footage posted on the Guardian newspaper’s website.
Helen Bower, May’s spokeswoman, said Johnson’s words did not reflect Britain’s policy towards Saudi Arabia.
“Those are the foreign secretary’s views. They are not the government’s position on, for example, Saudi [Arabia] and its role in the region.” Bower said, adding that May had met with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud at the GCC summit.
May “set out very clearly the government’s view on our relationship with Saudi Arabia, that it is a vital partner for the UK, particularly on counterterrorism”, Bower said.
Johnson was to visit Saudi Arabia this month, where, Bower said, he “will have the opportunity to set out the way the UK sees its relationship with Saudi [Arabia] and the work we want to do with them and other partners to bring an end to the appalling conflict in Yemen”.