Iran regime top of the agenda as US hosts GCC defense chiefs

The US Central Command is hosting a two-day meeting for defence chiefs of members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Egypt and Jordan in Tampa Florida in an effort to improve defence coordination and counter Iranian activities.

The meetings brought together eight chairmen of the joint chiefs of staff from the attending states, as well as the US and a defence representative from the GCC.

A spokesman for Centcom told The National “the GCC+2 Conference is taking place at MacDill Air Force Base [Florida] from 18-19 March” and the topics will include “regional cooperation/stability, countering Daesh, missile defense, and maritime operations,” he added, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.

The purpose of the meeting is “to strengthen relationships and promote cooperation among the participating nations”. While Saudi Arabia hosted last month a GCC defence training exercise, the last meeting for the GCC+2 and Centcom was hosted by Kuwait last September.

On Monday, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale travelled to Tampa to attend an event with the group. He was scheduled to address “the challenges in Syria, Yemen, and Libya, as well as countering the Iranian regime’s destabilising activities and shaping the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA),” according to the State Department.

Mesa, also referred to as the Arab Nato is a security alliance that the Trump administration has been hoping to put together since May 2017.

The alliance is expected to include the US and the GCC, plus Egypt and Jordan, and would focus on tackling a set of issues collectively, including defence, security, energy and economic policies. But differences among the members have derailed its launch, and forced Washington to reschedule three summits.

However, the meeting in Tampa follows a recent gathering in Washington for Mesa representatives and signals an uptick in momentum toward the launch of the alliance.

Yasmine Farouk, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told The National that the Tampa meeting is another sign that the Trump administration “is still pursuing Mesa actively and refuses to give up on the idea despite recent hurdles”.

“The fact that the Arab countries are still attending means that they are actually responsive to the administration’s determination to try and implement this project,” Ms Farouk said.

She pointed to some traction in recent months, as “the US is trying to push Arab countries to be more involved and more active, and some of these countries are now showing more initiative.”

However, Ms Farouk named the lack of clear consensus in defining threats as one of the unresolved issues derailing the formation.

Diplomatic sources have told The National that there is no agreement among those participating in defining the Islamist, the Iranian, and counterterrorism threats. Other issues that have surfaced in the past are defence relations with Russia and China, and energy security.

The diplomatic sources told The National that Riyadh will be hosting another meeting on the level of assistant ministers for Mesa members next month to follow up on Washington’s meeting in February.

Source » thenational

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