Washington, DC - At the Camp David Summit in May 2015, the United States and its Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) partners– Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Bahrain – committed to establish a stronger partnership to address regional challenges. This partnership is based on reciprocal commitments to improve the security, stability, and prosperity of the region.
Over the past year, we have convened several U.S.-GCC minister-level meetings, and had dozens of bilateral conversations, with the aim of translating the commitments from the Camp David Summit into concrete actions. U.S and Gulf defense ministers met on April 20 in Riyadh and determined additional measures to further strengthen security cooperation, especially efforts to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Foreign ministers met most recently on April 7 in Manama, Bahrain to prepare for the April 21 U.S.-GCC Riyadh summit. This cabinet-level engagement complements extensive leader-level outreach by the President, to include his fourth visit to Saudi Arabia – the most ever by a sitting U.S. president – and also hosting His Majesty King Salman to Washington in September 2015.
Defeating ISIL and Stabilizing the Region
The United States is working with GCC states to resolve conflicts and reduce regional tensions.
- Counter-ISIL. All GCC countries are members of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL. Contributions range from flying missions as part of the air campaign, to leading the Coalition’s working group on counter terrorist financing, and launching new centers for countering terrorist messaging.
- Yemen. We worked with GCC states to foster a nation-wide cessation of hostilities. In addition to encouraging all parties to reach a durable political settlement, the United States and the GCC states are supporting the international humanitarian response and collaborating to more effectively combat al-Qa’ida and ISIL in Yemen.
- Iraq. Supported by the Counter-ISIL Coalition, Iraqi forces have pushed ISIL back from more than 40 percent of the territory it once controlled. At the Summit, leaders underscored the importance of stabilizing areas of Iraq liberated from ISIL in order to ensure its defeat.
- Syria. The United States and GCC countries supported the cessation of hostilities and political talks to achieve a political transition away from Asad. Leaders committed to redouble support for the cessation and to encourage sustained engagement by all parties in the Geneva talks.
- Libya. Following the Camp David Summit, GCC countries worked more closely to stabilize Libya. Leaders pledged to bolster the Government of National Accord and mitigate the actions of any spoilers.
- Iran. GCC countries joined the United States in supporting the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. In Riyadh, leaders discussed the challenges posed by Iran’s problematic regional activities and underscored the importance of an inclusive approach to de-escalating regional conflicts.
Five working groups have been established to strengthen U.S.-GCC security cooperation, as committed at the Camp David Summit. Each working group has convened twice, bringing together experts to discuss cooperation in the areas of: counterterrorism; ballistic missile defense; military preparedness and training; streamlining the transfer of critical defense capabilities; and cyber security. Specialized working groups have also convened on Special Operations Forces (SOF), maritime cooperation, countering terrorist financing, and countering terrorist messaging. Among the outcomes of these working groups and related bilateral engagements:
- Briefed GCC countries on the initial findings of a U.S. study offering recommendations for establishing a GCC-wide ballistic missile early warning system.
- Expedited the process for transfers of equipment for GCC member states to strengthen their ability to contribute to their defense and the counter-ISIL campaign;
- Enhanced cooperation on cybersecurity, including with respect to critical infrastructure;
- Strengthened regional counter terrorist finance and anti-money laundering regimes, including through a GCC-wide conference on addressing the misuse of charity for terrorist financing, and a public and private banking dialogue;
- Increased most GCC states’ Force Activity Designator priority levels for requested military articles, giving them priority access for parts from U.S. stockpiles;
- Hosted GCC member delegations for visits to U.S. counterterrorism and screening centers, in order to share information on foreign terrorist fighters;
- Supported GCC countries’ development of a network of countering violent extremist messaging practitioners, including through the exchange of best practices; and
- Increased coordination to disrupt Hizballah’s operational networks and activities in the Gulf through the use of law enforcement and counterterrorism-finance tools.
Additional security initiatives endorsed by leaders at the Riyadh Summit include:
- GCC SOF Response Force Initiative. This framework will pair elite special operations forces from each GCC member state with U.S. trainers, in both bilateral and multilateral settings. These SOF partnerships will allows us to maintain close communications, ensure interoperability, and plan jointly to confront regional terrorist threats.
- Intelligence Exchange. An exchange among U.S. and GCC experts will be formalized to inform ongoing work on a common approach to regional challenges.
- Ballistic Missile Defense. Leaders committed to accelerate efforts to field an integrated GCC Ballistic Missile Early Warning System that would help counter regional threats. As a next step in this process, GCC countries will participate in a Ballistic Missile Defense Senior Leader Seminar in May 2016, to include a tabletop simulation exercise that will underscore the importance of regional ballistic missile defense cooperation.
- Significant Military Exercise. Leaders finalized plans to begin immediately planning for a significant U.S.-GCC military exercise, to be held in March 2017. It will showcase the full breadth of U.S.-GCC security capabilities across all domains, and emphasize furthering the interoperability of U.S. and GCC forces and demonstrating joint, multilateral, and inter-government operations as part of a U.S.-GCC Combined Joint Task Force to collectively address pressing security issues. Ahead of the exercise, GCC countries will participate in defense-focused symposia on critical skills such as combat medical care, logistics, strategic communication, and also a strategy and planning group.
- Peacetime Cyber Norms. Acknowledging the need for responsible state behavior in cyberspace, leaders stated their support for key concepts that will promote an environment of global cyber stability. These include the affirmation of the applicability of international law to state conduct in cyberspace and of voluntary norms of responsible state behavior in peacetime previously affirmed by leaders of the G-20.
- Maritime Cooperation. As part of expanded cooperation, the United States and GCC countries committed to joint maritime patrols over the next year, to ensure shared situational awareness and improve maritime security.
Economic and Energy Cooperation
Consistent with the emphasis at the Camp David Summit on strengthening governance, leaders at the Riyadh Summit committed to launch a new ministerial-level U.S.-GCC economic and energy dialogue this year. It will provide a forum to discuss GCC countries’ plans to adopt new policies that could make available additional resources to meet their citizens’ needs, and more broadly facilitate a dialogue on the challenges posed by low oil prices and growing youth populations. Other potential topics for this dialogue include: steps to improve the investment environment in GCC countries; development of sovereign bond markets; reduction of fossil fuel subsidies; climate finance; and potential policy approaches to macro-economic and energy trends. This ministerial dialogue will complement extensive U.S. bilateral economic and investment engagement with GCC members, as well as ongoing engagement with GCC countries on clean energy and climate policy.
The United States and GCC countries committed to work together on a 2016 Amendment to the Montreal Protocol to reduce the production and consumption of harmful hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). These greenhouse gases can be up to 10,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide in contributing to climate change. A 2016 amendment to the Montreal Protocol to phase down HFCs would achieve substantial greenhouse gas reductions and could avoid up to 0.5 degrees Celsius of warming by 2100.
The United States and GCC countries are partnering to help meet the extraordinary humanitarian needs facing the more than 18 million Syrians, including nearly 5 million refugees, people affected by violence in Syria and other regional conflicts. To date, the United States has led the way in contributing more than $5 billion in aid since the start of the Syrian conflict. GCC countries have collectively contributed over $2.5 billion. Ahead of the High Level Summit on Refugees, which the President will host on the margins of the 2016 U.N. General Assembly in New York, GCC countries will work to expand their assistance to refugees.