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Nato seeks closer ties with Gulf, opens new centre
January 25, 2017, 10:29 am
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The first North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI) Regional Centre was opened in a high-profile ceremony on Tuesday in Kuwait. Prime Minister Shaikh Jaber Al Mubarak Al Hamad Al Sabah and Nato’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg led the ceremony held at the new premises in the Mushref Diplomatic Area.

Foreign Minister Shaikh Sabah Al Khalid Al Hamad Al Sabah, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Secretary-General Abdul Lateef Al Zayani, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid Bin Ahmad Al Khalifa and the Chief of Kuwaiti Security Bureau Shaikh Thamer Ali Sabah Al Salem Al Sabah were among dignitaries and diplomats who attended the morning event, Kuwait News Agency (Kuna) reported.

Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg called for boosting security cooperation with the Gulf states. “It will be a vital hub for cooperation between the alliance and our Gulf partners,” Stoltenberg said.

The centre is based on the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI), which was launched by the Nato leaders in 2004 and aims to boost security links with the Middle East, in particular Gulf Arab states.

Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE are members of ICI while the remaining two Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states — Saudi Arabia and Oman — plan to join. Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Shaikh Sabah Khalid Al Sabah said the region is facing serious challenges that require cooperation with international organisations.

“We face common security threats like terrorism, weapons proliferation, and cyber attacks. And we share the same aspirations for peace and for stability,” Stoltenberg said. “So it is essential that we work more closely together than ever before. We have now developed individual cooperation programmes with all our Gulf partners,” he said.

Following the opening ceremony, an accord for the establishment and operation of the ICI centre was signed by Shaikh Sabah and Stoltenberg. A documentary on Kuwait’s regional and international roles and its efforts in supporting the centre was shown at the event.

The opening of the centre marks two important milestones, a milestone in the friendship between Nato and Kuwait, and a milestone in the blossoming partnership between Nato and the entire Gulf region, he said. “Nato’s Istanbul Cooperation Initiative — the ICI — was designed to contribute to long-term regional stability, so I am extremely pleased that our three other ICI partners are represented here today: Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates,” he said.

“This Centre is a historic first: Nato’s first such presence in the Gulf region. It will be a vital hub for cooperation between the Alliance and our Gulf partners, as well as with Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the Gulf Cooperation Council, including in our important fight against terrorism.” Nato and the ICI will work together in a range of different areas, that include strategic analysis, civil emergency planning, military-to-military cooperation, and public diplomacy, Stoltenberg added.

“The partnerships we will strengthen through this Centre are vitally important to Nato because the security of Gulf countries is directly linked to the security of all Allies. We face common security threats like terrorism, weapons proliferation, and cyber-attacks. And we share the same aspirations for peace and for stability. So it is essential that we work more closely together than ever before. We have now developed individual cooperation programmes with all our Gulf partners because modern security institutions and well-trained local forces represent our best weapons in the fight against violent extremism.”

Stoltenberg added that Nato had a long history of working with partners to project stability beyond its borders. “Over the past year, we have trained hundreds of Iraqi officers in Jordan to better fight ISIL [Daesh]. We are now extending our training and capacity-building efforts into Iraq itself. Nato continues to fight terrorism in other ways, including with direct support to the Counter-ISIL Coalition. Our Awacs surveillance flights provide surveillance data to support Coalition air operations. All Allies contribute individually to the Coalition in different ways. My message is this: In addressing the most pressing security challenges of our time, we are much stronger together than we are alone, and that is what this Nato-ICI Centre is all about: Deepening trust, building cooperation and working together to make our nations safer.”

Stoltenberg said he was proud Nato has a new home in the Gulf region and opened a new chapter in deepening partnership with the ICI. The ICI is an initiative launched by Nato in the Turkish city in 2004 to offer the countries of the region practical bilateral security cooperation with the alliance that will contribute to long-term global and regional security.

Kuwait joined in December 2004, Bahrain and Qatar in February 2005 and the UAE in June 2005.

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