May to help Gulf ‘push back’ Iran

Kuwait Times - - NEWS -

DUBAI: Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May told Gulf lead­ers yes­ter­day that Bri­tain would help “push back” against Ira­nian ag­gres­sion as they agreed on a strate­gic part­ner­ship to deepen ties. Ad­dress­ing a sum­mit of the six-na­tion Gulf Co­op­er­a­tion Coun­cil in Bahrain, May reaf­firmed Bri­tish sup­port for tra­di­tional al­lies in the re­gion, while also seek­ing to strengthen post-Brexit trade.

“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,” she told lead­ers of the GCC, which brings to­gether Saudi Ara­bia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The Arab Gulf monar­chies and Iran are bit­ter re­gional ri­vals, at odds over a range of is­sues in­clud­ing the wars in Syria and Yemen. GCC coun­tries are con­cerned about Iran’s grow­ing in­flu­ence in the re­gion, es­pe­cially af­ter last year’s nu­clear deal be­tween Tehran and world pow­ers took a step to­wards end­ing its in­ter­na­tional iso­la­tion.

The Iran agree­ment was “vi­tally im­por­tant for re­gional se­cu­rity”, May told the sum­mit. “But we must also work to­gether to push back against Iran’s ag­gres­sive re­gional ac­tions.” In a joint state­ment af­ter the sum­mit, Bri­tain and the GCC agreed to a “strate­gic part­ner­ship” that would foster “po­lit­i­cal, de­fence, se­cu­rity and trade” ties, while “de­vel­op­ing col­lec­tive ap­proaches to re­gional is­sues”. In their state­ment, GCC states and Bri­tain said they “op­pose and will work to­gether to counter Iran’s desta­bi­liz­ing ac­tiv­i­ties”.

As part of strength­en­ing mil­i­tary co­op­er­a­tion, Bri­tain will main­tain a pres­ence “through­out the Gulf,” the state­ment said, in­clud­ing through Bri­tish de­fense staff to be based in Dubai. The state­ment said Bri­tain and GCC coun­tries were “com­mit­ted to con­tinue work­ing to­wards a sus­tain­able po­lit­i­cal res­o­lu­tion in Syria”, where Pres­i­dent Bashar Al-As­sad “has lost all le­git­i­macy and has no role in Syria’s fu­ture”.

It called for As­sad’s back­ers in­clud­ing Rus­sia and Iran “to sup­port a mean­ing­ful end to the vi­o­lence, sus­tained hu­man­i­tar­ian ac­cess and an in­clu­sive po­lit­i­cal process” in Syria. Dur­ing her speech, May said the two sides would study lib­er­al­iz­ing trade as Bri­tain pre­pares to leave the Euro­pean Union af­ter the shock ref­er­en­dum vote to quit the bloc. “I want these talks... to pave the way for an am­bi­tious trade ar­range­ment” af­ter Brexit, she said in Bahrain, which was a Bri­tish pro­tec­torate for 100 years and gained full in­de­pen­dence in 1971.

May was the first woman and first Bri­tish leader to ad­dress a GCC sum­mit, as Gulf coun­tries deepen ties with ma­jor pow­ers be­yond long­time ally the United States. In May last year, France’s Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande be­came the first Western head of state to at­tend a GCC sum­mit. US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama fol­lowed in April this year, seek­ing to re­as­sure Gulf mon­archs about US over­tures to Iran.

GCC lead­ers have ex­pressed con­cern over the in­ter­na­tional agree­ment that lifted sanc­tions on Iran this year in ex­change for guar­an­tees it would not pur­sue a nu­clear weapons ca­pa­bil­ity. Riyadh and its al­lies fear the pact will lead to more Ira­nian in­ter­ven­tion in a re­gion which, they feel, has suf­fered from a lack of Amer­i­can in­volve­ment un­der Obama. The EU in­clud­ing Bri­tain is the Gulf’s big­gest trad­ing part­ner, with trade flows of more than €130 bil­lion ($140 bil­lion) an­nu­ally. But al­most 30 years af­ter the Gulf states and EU be­gan talks on free trade, still no deal has been reached. Bi­lat­eral trade be­tween Bri­tain and the GCC was worth more than £30 bil­lion ($38 bil­lion) last year.

— AP

A woman walks in a park in Frank­furt yes­ter­day on a cold and grey day.

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