By Arab News
By Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg
I write this week from London, where GCC-UK Strategic Dialogue meetings were concluded with a meeting on Thursday (June 21) between the British Foreign Secretary William Hague, GCC foreign ministers and the GCC secretary-general.
With the establishment of strategic dialogue with the UK, I believe that the GCC is completing a circle of strategic engagements with its key partners, including the United States, European Union, China and Turkey, among others. Strategic dialogue as a concept and an approach was adopted by the GCC in 2008, with a view to translate GCC potential collective economic and political power into strategic assets that enhance collective GCC role in the world.
This process has become all the more urgent in light of heightened political and economic challenges in the region and globally.
I also think that this strategic re-thinking is meant to enhance member states’ ability to act in the regional and international arenas, and is not directed against any outside powers. While most countries and groups have welcomed this evolution in GCC strategic thinking, a few may still be happier with the old world of dealing with the GCC countries individually. As I wrote in this paper earlier before, the United States for example prefers now to deal with the GCC as a group, reversing the preference by earlier administrations to deal with its member states individually. Iran, on the other hand, has sharpened its hostile rhetoric against the council and seems to work diligently to undermine it.
To go back to the London meetings, which were the first to be dedicated to full-fledged strategic dialogue between the GCC and UK since an inaugural joint ministerial meeting, which took place in New York in September 2011. During that September meeting, it was decided to launch this dialogue and hold it annually, alternating between the UK and one of the GCC member states.
The meeting with Hague was preceded by a meeting in London of the GCC ministerial council, as well meetings between GCC and UK senior officials.
It was apt to hold these meetings in London, since it was the current government which launched the “Gulf Initiative” upon its election in 2010. The initiative aims to reinvigorate GCC-UK relations and set them on a fast track. Hague pointed out that the initiative had been conceived some five years ago, while Conservatives were still in the opposition.
Beyond the symbolic significance of holding all these meetings in the UK, for the first time ever, a lot of substantive issues were discussed, covering three major tracks: Political, economic and people-to-people issues. As such, those discussions prepared the groundwork for an effective strategic dialogue, with a view toward establishing a long-lasting strategic relationship.
Naturally, key developments in the region were discussed. The importance of those developments to both sides, and the depth of GCC-UK discussions around them only reemphasized the need for a sustained engagement to coordinate positions and actions the two sides may take to deal with those issues.
The final communiqué issued after the London meetings listed the common strategic objectives of this dialogue, which the two sides have agreed to work together toward achieving them.
They include maintaining peace, security and stability in the region; expanding trade and investment between them and creating a favorable business climate; enhancing economic growth, prosperity and sustainable development; as well as encouraging scientific and cultural exchanges.
To put those shared sentiments and immediate concerns into concrete relief, the GCC and the UK made significant progress on the UK-GCC Joint Action Plan, conclusion of which would help translate their common objectives into concrete steps and promote the common interests of both sides.
It was clear at the London meetings that the two sides have in mind a very short time horizon to finalize the Joint Action Plan.
They said at the end of the meeting that they will be endorsing the plan at the next ministerial meeting between them, which could take place as soon as September 2012, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly 67th Session. Once adopted, the plan will be implemented and taken forward through regular dialogue on political, security and economic issues, business partnerships, as well as cultural and people-to-people contacts.
Besides the modalities of this budding strategic dialogue, Hague said that the ministers discussed “wider issues of concern which threaten the stability of the region, specifically Syria, and how we can work together to increase the pressure on the Assad government to end the violence and allow a political transition.
I also updated the group on progress in talks between Iran and the E3+3 in Moscow. I made clear that we remain committed to finding a peaceful, diplomatic solution to the nuclear issue, but that the pressure will only increase on Iran until it shows it is willing to take urgent, concrete steps to build confidence that its nuclear program is purely peaceful.”