GCC and Britain to expand security cooperation

Sunday 11/12/2016
Britain would invest more than $3.21 billion in defence spending in Gulf

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”.