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Stoltenberg: NATO-ICI Center to deepen cooperation with Kuwait, entire region

‘Gulf security directly linked to that of all NATO Allies’

NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg

BRUSSELS: NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg will travel to Kuwait tomorrow to inaugurate the NATO-Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI) Regional Center which will be the Alliance’s first such presence in the region.
“I thank Kuwait for its generosity, and commend its active role in promoting regional security. The NATO-ICI Center represents an important milestone in NATO’s deepening cooperation with Kuwait and the entire region,” he said in an exclusive interview ahead of the two-day visit.

The NATO chief explained that the center will be a hub for cooperation between the Alliance and Gulf partners in a wide range of areas, including strategic analysis, civil emergency planning, military-to-military cooperation, and public diplomacy.
The Center will also facilitate the sharing of expertise and improve understanding between NATO and Kuwait, as well as the three other Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI) partners – Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), he said.
He noted that the Kuwaiti authorities proposed the establishment of the Center at NATO’s Chicago Summit in 2012, and the Alliance gratefully accepted. “Last year, I toured the construction site, and in a few days, I will be in Kuwait again to celebrate the Center’s opening,” said Stoltenberg, 58, a former Prime Minister of Norway.

Directly linked
He stressed that “the security of the Gulf is directly linked to the security of all NATO Allies. We share the same aspirations for peace and stability, and we share common security threats, such as terrorism, weapons proliferation and failing states.” “The shared security challenges make it even more important that we work closer together. That is exactly why we are reinforcing our political dialogue and practical cooperation,” he stated.

NATO has partnership programs with all four members of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative which was launched during the NATO summit in the Turkish metropolis in 2004. “Taking Kuwait as an example, we work closely in areas including crisis management, defense policy, and defense against chemical, biological, and radiological and nuclear weapons,” Stoltenberg said.

He said the NATO-Kuwait Transit Agreement, signed during his last visit in 2016, is another example of the value this partnership provides: it facilitates the movement of NATO equipment and personnel through the region.
“NATO deeply values its partnerships in the Gulf, and my upcoming visit to Kuwait and the new Regional Center underlines the priority we place on building our cooperation even further,” he underlined.

Stoltenberg said he would welcome the membership of Saudi Arabia and Oman in the ICI if they so wished. “The Gulf Cooperation Council, to which they belong, plays a key role in regional stability. I met the Saudi Defense Minister last year at NATO Headquarters, and he expressed Saudi Arabia’s readiness for further cooperation. So I look forward to an ongoing dialogue on deepening our relations,” he said.

Fighting terrorism
Further, he said that NATO is committed to fighting terrorism and projecting stability, including by working with a range of partners throughout North Africa and the Middle East. “We have already trained hundreds of Iraqi officers in Jordan to better fight IS, and from this month we are expanding our efforts into Iraq itself. In Tunisia, we are supporting the training of Tunisian Special Forces, and in Afghanistan, we are helping to ensure that the country never again becomes a safe haven for international terrorism. When our neighbors are more stable, we are more secure,” he said.

NATO also continues to offer direct support to the Global Coalition to Counter the so-called Islamic State (IS), with our AWACS surveillance aircraft providing surveillance data to support air operations. And all Allies contribute to the Coalition in different ways, he said.

“The Coalition is making steady progress, and IS is losing ground,” he said. “So as we begin 2017, I am confident that NATO will remain the cornerstone of Euro-Atlantic security, and continue to project stability beyond our borders. Again and again, our history has proven that NATO can adapt and deliver. Today, as we face the most serious security challenges in a generation, our adaptation continues,” he concluded.

During his visit, the NATO chief is scheduled to have meetings with His Highness the Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, the First Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Sabah and the President of the Kuwait National Security Bureau Sheikh Thamer Ali Al-Sabah, according to a statement released earlier by NATO.
A meeting of the North Atlantic Council with senior representatives of the four ICI partner countries will follow the ceremony, with the participation of the Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council and representatives of the Sultanate of Oman and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The ICI which includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE was launched in Istanbul in 2004 to develop security and defence cooperation between the four Arab Gulf states and NATO. – KUNA

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