The year 2016 will go down as landmark period in the relationship between the GCC countries, in particular Kuwait, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) following a number of high-level visits and meetings.
The year began with an historic visit by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to Kuwait on February 29 where he welcomed closer cooperation between the 28-member Alliance and Kuwait. Speaking at the site of the future NATO-Kuwait Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI) Regional Centre, Stoltenberg praised Kuwait's commitment and vision in bringing NATO closer to the Gulf region.
As the Alliance's first presence in the Gulf, the NATO-ICI Regional Centre, expected to be inaugurated by the NATO chief in January 2017, will be a hub for NATO's practical cooperation with Kuwait and other ICI partners, as well as Saudi Arabia and Oman. During his visit, Stoltenberg underlined that the security of the Gulf region is directly linked to the security of the Alliance.
He praised Kuwait's active role in promoting regional stability and supporting the international coalition's fight against the so-called Islamic State (IS).
He also commended Kuwait's leadership in responding to humanitarian emergencies, such as the Syrian refugee crisis. As part of NATO's deepening cooperation with Kuwait, the Secretary General signed a NATO-Kuwait Transit Agreement with First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Sabah.
While in Kuwait, the Secretary General also met with the Amir of the State of Kuwait, His Highness Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, His Highness the Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, and the President of the Kuwait National Security Bureau Sheikh Thamer Ali Al-Sabah.
He also paid a visit to the headquarters of the Kuwait News Agency (KUNA), seen as an acknowledgment by NATO of the agency's vital media role in promoting NATO-Gulf ties to enhance security and peace in the region. After Kuwait, Stoltenberg visited Abu Dhabi in early March where NATO and the UAE expressed their determination to enhance cooperation in addressing common security challenges.
During talks with his counterparts, Stoltenberg strongly welcomed the United Arab Emirate's support to NATO-led operations around the world. NATO and the United Arab Emirates reinforced their partnership and set out their priorities for future cooperation by signing an Individual Partnership and Cooperation Programme in October at the NATO headquarters in Brussels.
At the end of March, Stoltenberg welcomed the Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Abdullatif Bin Rashid Al-Zayani, to NATO headquarters in Brussels for talks on deepening cooperation between the two organisations.
In a special session of the North Atlantic Council on the level of ambassadors, Stoltenberg welcomed the GCC's important role in contributing to regional stability, and thanked Al-Zayani for his personal engagement with the Alliance. The meeting discussed reinforcing ties between NATO and the GCC with more regular staff contacts and political dialogue as a first step. They noted that NATO places high importance on building cooperation with Gulf States.
The Alliance has already developed political dialogue and practical cooperation with four out of six GCC states, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates through the Alliance's Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, which was launched in 2004.
In October, Lieutenant General Mohammad Al-Khoder became the first Kuwait chief of staff to visit NATO headquarters in Brussels and also the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in the Belgian city of Mons. His meetings addressed plans to boost Kuwait's military cooperation with NATO through joint drills and exercises.
On Kuwait's ties with NATO, the Kuwaiti army chief described them as "exceptional". Also in October, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg led the North Atlantic Council and the NATO Military Committee in celebrating the 65th anniversary of the establishment of the NATO Defense College (NDC) in Rome.
The ceremony was attended by Kuwaiti Ambassador to Italy Sheikh Ali Al- Khaled Al-Sabah and Military Attache Captain Dr. Bashar Abdulredha, as well as representatives of the Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative. Sheikh Ali Al-Khaled, in a statement on the occasion, appreciated "fruitful cooperation" between the NDC and the State of Kuwait, which was manifested through the participation of Sheikh Thamer Ali Sabah Al- Salem Al-Sabah, chief of national security apparatus, as one of the key speakers in displaying Kuwait's strategy on regional security.
In November the third meeting of NATO's consultative group of the ICC, was held in the Qatari capital Doha. The two-day meeting emphasized the cooperation between NATO and the ICI, and the challenges of regional security.
Future prospects of the initiative, the security challenges and the war on terror were also discussed. In December Jasem Al-Budaiwi presented his credentials to the Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg, thus becoming the first Kuwaiti Ambassador to present his credentials to the Alliance.
Al-Budaiwi - who is also Kuwait's Ambassador to the EU, Belgium and Luxembourg - said in a statement to KUNA that he conveyed the greetings of the First Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah to Stoltenberg.
He said Stoltenberg expressed his hope to visit Kuwait soon together with the North Atlantic Council to meet with the political leadership and senior officials and to participate in the launch of NATO's Regional Centre for the ICI. Al-Budaiwi said that Stoltenberg praised the level of relations between Kuwait and NATO, and lauded the great efforts and multiple facilities provided by the State of Kuwait to host the Centre. Kuwait is the first country to have joined the ICI, followed by the United Arab Emirates, the State of Qatar, and Bahrain.