By Arab News
British Prime Minister Theresa May was the star of the show at the 37th Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Summit on Wednesday.
The first woman and first British leader to address a GCC summit, May told the assembled leaders: “Gulf security is our security. I want to assure you that I am clear-eyed about the threat that Iran poses to the Gulf and to the wider Middle East.
“We in the UK are determined to continue to be your partner of choice as you embed international norms and see through the reforms which are so essential for all of your people.”
May acknowledged that the nuclear deal with world powers that limited Iran’s ability to enrich uranium “was vitally important for regional security.”
But she also said parties must “work together to push back against Iran’s aggressive regional actions, whether in Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Syria or in the Gulf itself.”
May said she sought a “bold new chapter” in cooperation with Gulf states, which she described as “a strategic relationship … based on true partnership and an enduring commitment between our countries and our peoples.”
She said: “The risks to our shared security are growing and evolving, as terrorists operate across national borders to plot attacks against our people; as new threats emerge from the malevolent use of the Internet, and as certain states continue to act in ways that undermine stability in your region — undermining, in turn, our own security in the West and further reinforcing the need for all of us to work together.”
May said she was “encouraged by recent economic and social reforms” in the Gulf, and “by the bold vision set out by all of the Gulf states for more fundamental and lasting change, most recently with Saudi Arabia’s vision for 2030.”
May praised the “rich history” between the UK and the Gulf, dating back to the mid-17th century, through the Cold War to the present day.
She said her country “has been proudly at the forefront of a relationship between the Gulf and the West that has been the bedrock of our shared prosperity and security.”
May said the UK’s vote to leave the European Union presented an opportunity to “go even further in working with old friends, like our allies here in the Gulf, who have stood alongside us for centuries. There has never been a more important, or more challenging time to do so.”
The premier said “no country is a more committed partner” for the Gulf states than the UK in “confronting the terrorism of Al-Qaeda or the murderous barbarity of Daesh.”
She cited intelligence from Saudi Arabia that “has saved potentially hundreds of lives in the UK.”
May hailed the “close cooperation on counter-terrorism” between the UK and Gulf states, which has succeeded “in foiling terrorist plots and a range of threats against citizens in all our countries.”
Saying the UK “will make a more permanent and more enduring commitment to the long-term security of the Gulf,” May said Britain wanted to invest more than £3 billion in defense spending in the region over the next decade.
May said the construction of HMS Jufair naval base in Bahrain would enable more British warships, aircraft and personnel to be deployed on operations in the Gulf than in any other part of the world.
She also cited “a regional land training hub in Oman” that “is establishing a permanent British army presence in the region.”
The prime minister announced that Saif Sareea 3, the largest UK-Omani military exercise in 15 years, would take place in Oman in 2018.
“We will establish a new British Defense Staff in Dubai to coordinate our regional activities and, here in Bahrain, we will embed a dedicated military officer with the Ministry of Interior bomb disposal unit to provide bomb scene management support and training,” said May.
“We will establish a new Joint Working Group on Counter-Terrorism and Border Security and a new National Security Dialogue at GCC level to protect critical national infrastructure, facilitate faster intelligence sharing on suspected foreign terrorist fighters and implement traveler screening systems to detect terrorists attempting to pass through any GCC airport.”
May also offered British help with cyber-security, in the form of advice from appointed experts and a new Cyber Industry Representative based in the region, “who will build links between cyber sectors in the UK and the Gulf.”
Simon Collis, British ambassador to Saudi Arabia, agreed that the UK and the Kingdom had a long history of diplomatic ties.
“This year we are celebrating 100 years of diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia and looking forward to the next century, supporting the Kingdom in achieving the goals of Vision 2030 by fostering innovation and entrepreneurship in the next generation,” he said in a statement to Arab News. Chris Doyle, director of the London-based Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding, pointed out the significance of May’s visit to the Gulf, given that she only took office in July.
“(May) and her government are determined to reach out to non-EU markets in order to demonstrate that Britain is not going to be turning in on itself and has an outward looking approach to the world; she is attempting to make this a very concrete demonstration of that fact,” he said.
Doyle added that the British government is “extremely wary” of any additional conflict in the Middle East.
“Exactly how the British government and its allies will go about containing Iran is another matter because obviously Iran has played a largely negative role within the Syrian context and of course there are concerns about the role it may have in Yemen and other theaters,” he said.