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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Nato is set to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Istanbul Co-operation Initiative, the framework that affords the UAE and other Gulf countries bilateral security ties with the world’s biggest military alliance, at a ceremony in Kuwait on Monday.
Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg will address the meeting alongside Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al Khaled Al Hamad Al Sabah. The four members of the initiative, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar, will all be in attendance at the Nato-ICI Regional Centre in Kuwait City that was inaugurated two years ago.
A symbolic ceremony will be followed by a meeting of the North Atlantic Council, with all 29 member states present, as well as the Istanbul Co-operation Initiative members and the Republic of North Macedonia, which is expected to become the alliance’s 30th member next year. The meeting will be held at the level of permanent representatives to Nato.
The meeting will give members of the initiative a chance to evaluate what co-operation has allowed them to achieve in the past 15 years while considering in what arenas they want to expand moving forward, Nato Deputy Spokesperson Piers Cazelet told The National.
“The purpose of the meeting with our Gulf partners is to take stock of progress made within the framework of the Istanbul Co-operation Initiative and to discuss our common way forward to make our partners even more efficient,” he said.
“A lot has been achieved so far. We have conducted a wide range of practical activities, including for instance military training and education, crisis management, and dealing with natural and man-made disasters.”
Saudi Arabia and Oman, who have yet to accept the offer extended by Nato to all Gulf countries in 2004, will also be represented. Oman has sought to retain its independence from international organisations as a key regional mediator. Saudi Arabia already has strong bilateral ties with the United States and Britain, two of Nato’s biggest contributors, and has not fully signed up to the idea of co-operating with the alliance, although discussions remain ongoing.
It will also bring together Qatar and other Gulf states once more after the diplomatic fallout of June 2017, when the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia cut transport and trade ties with Doha over its support for extremist groups. While Qatar still participates in Istanbul Co-operation Initiative meetings, officials say they have been less frank and less substantive since the crisis broke out, with bilateral briefings proving more productive.
Kuwait has remained in contact with both sides of the dispute and the Gulf state’s choice as the venue for the ceremony may have helped all parties attend.
It also comes less than two weeks after a Nato summit in London where allies became embroiled in several rows, despite an agreed statement of unity. World leaders, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron, were captured on camera mocking US President Donald Trump. But Nato officials in Kuwait continue to repeat the message carried at the Nato summit in Brussels last year: we are united despite our divisions.
“At our recent meeting in London, our leaders reaffirmed that NATO is a defensive Alliance and poses no threat to any country. We work to increase security for all. In this respect we have strengthened partnerships in our neighbourhood and beyond,” Mr Cazelet said.
Recent disagreements in Nato are not new. Trans-Atlantic allies have clashed before within the alliance, particularly over the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.
Mr Stoltenberg, in an exclusive interview with Kuwaiti state news agency KUNA ahead of the ceremony, said that the Kuwait City-based centre for the initiative has “played a very important role in furthering our cooperation with the Gulf countries”.
“I welcome Kuwait’s long-standing efforts to contribute to regional stability, including through the NATO Istanbul Cooperation Initiative,” he said.
“The security of our ICI partners is of strategic importance to NATO. Through the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, we have a unique platform where we discuss security issues of common concern.”
Officials say Monday’s meeting will focus on areas on which all members can do more, specifically interoperability, counter-terrorism, cyber defence, civil emergency planning and energy security.
Nato’s regional hub in Kuwait, what Mr Stoltenberg referred to as “Nato’s home in the Gulf” when he inaugurated the building in 2017, has hosted more than 1,000 officers and experts from the Gulf members of the initiative and from Nato member countries in joint training and cooperation exercises.
Kuwait funded the centre and volunteered to host this year’s ceremony. Qatar hosted the 10th anniversary ceremony in 2014.
Updated: December 15, 2019 05:59 PM
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