By Arab News
By Ghazanfar Ali Khan
American President Barack Obama lashed out at Iran on Thursday, saying that the US continues to have “serious concerns” about Iran’s belligerent behavior even after the nuclear deal that was signed last year. Obama was speaking after the conclusion of the high-profile summit between the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the US, which was chaired by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman.
The summit, attended by heads of all six Gulf states, pledged to continue coordinating closely on issues of mutual concern including through meetings of foreign and defense ministers. They also agreed to hold an annual summit-level meeting and open an office in Washington to advance cooperation, and endorsed additional security initiatives.
In a major development, Obama and the Gulf leaders also directed the US-GCC Working Group to meet twice a year “to advance cooperation in counterterrorism, streamlining the transfer of critical defense capabilities, missile defense, military preparedness and cyber security.” In this context, the leaders announced plans for a significant US-GCC military exercise to be held in March 2017.
In a speech, King Salman said the Riyadh summit, which was a follow up to a similar GCC-US summit held last year at Camp David, was “constructive and fruitful,” and thanked Obama and his officials for “enhancing the consultation and cooperation between the GCC countries and the US.”
“I would like to emphasize the keenness and commitment of the GCC countries to develop historical and strategic relations between our respective countries and the US to serve our mutual interest as well as the security and peace of the region and the world.” Obama, while briefing media, also pledged to coordinate better on conflicts across the region.
He said that “while the Iranian nuclear agreement had helped “cut off every single one of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon,” illegal Iranian arms shipments, ballistic missile tests, and “destabilizing acts” were a continued worry for the US and its Gulf allies.
Obama said the US would use every element of its power to ensure the security of its interests and partners in the Gulf region. He said that the US and its Arab allies remain united in their effort to dismantle Daesh, adding that talk of strained relations between the US and the Gulf bloc “was always overblown.”
Referring to the summit talks, he said that “the leaders of the Gulf states pledged to increase their contribution to the anti-IS campaign.” On Syria, Obama acknowledged the cessation of hostilities between government and opposition forces was “very fragile” and in danger of “breaking down.” But he insisted that sticking with a diplomatic approach to easing President Bashar Assad out of power was still the right course of action.
He called on Assad to step aside not only because he has killed his own people but also because it was hard to see him being the head of a government that would end the fighting. “Whoever comes out on top will be standing on top of a country that has been devastated,” Obama said.
On the situation in Iraq where the US is a major stakeholder together with GCC countries, Obama said that the US and its Gulf allies should wait to see whether Iraq could resolve its political crisis before committing more financial aid. He made it clear that the political paralysis was impeding US-led efforts to defeat Daesh and reconstruct that war-torn country.
“Right now in Baghdad, there’s some big challenges,” Obama said. “Until that’s settled, I think it’s important for us to make sure that any additional stabilization dollars that we put in are going to be effectively spent,” said Obama, who spoke candidly on regional conflicts, while assuring Gulf states to work together to ensure peace and security in the region.
Applauding the efforts of the GCC countries including the Kingdom, Obama said that the formation of a new government in Libya and peace talks to end fighting in Yemen “along with last year’s nuclear deal with Iran” wouldn’t have been possible without support from the Gulf partners. However, he stressed the need for “consistent, institutionalized communication” with countries in the region.
He also pointed out that intelligence sharing between the US and the GCC was vital in the fight against terrorism. “I think that overall there is a broad consensus in assisting each other in our collective security,” Obama stated, while adding that “our intelligence sharing is vital in fighting against terrorism, and it has consistently improved.”
On the question of falling oil prices and its impact on oil producing and consuming countries, the US president said that the US and Gulf producers would work together to lessen the impact of low oil prices. They “will launch a new high-level economic dialogue with a focus on adjusting to lower oil prices, increasing our economic ties and supporting GCC reforms,” he said at the close of the GCC summit.
He also called for closer climate cooperation, a reference to the two sides’ renewed commitment to work together on a 2016 amendment to the Montreal Protocol to reduce the production and consumption of harmful hydro fluorocarbons (HFCs). The amendment has the potential to phase out HFCs and achieve substantial greenhouse reductions that could avoid global warming of up to 0.5 degrees Celsius by 2100.
The official delegation of the Kingdom to the summit included Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif, deputy premier and interior minister, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, second deputy premier and defense minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir, General Intelligence President Khalid bin Ali Al-Humaidan and many other top officials.
Later on Thursday afternoon, Obama wrapped up his two-day visit and flew to London.