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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 October 2018

Nato ‘ready to welcome’ Saudi Arabia and Oman

Alliance says ‘doors are open’ to the two GCC countries yet to join Istanbul Co-operation Initiative

Nato's Istanbul Co-operation Initiative counts all GCC countries as members apart from Saudi Arabia and Oman. Marlene Awaad / Bloomberg
Nato's Istanbul Co-operation Initiative counts all GCC countries as members apart from Saudi Arabia and Oman. Marlene Awaad / Bloomberg

Nato is “ready” to welcome Saudi Arabia and Oman into its co-operation initiative with Gulf countries, according to a senior official.

The initiative, launched at the military alliance’s 2004 summit in Istanbul, focuses on regional security co-operation in areas such as counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation.

With the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar already members of the Istanbul Co-operation Initiative, Saudi Arabia and Oman are the only Gulf Cooperation Council members yet to join.

"They know that our doors are open,” the official told The National.

“Whenever they are ready, we will be ready to welcome them. We cannot go further than that."

The UAE has been party to the ICI since 2004 and was the first Arab country to open an embassy at Nato.

Officials here at the summit in Brussels say they have heard murmurs that Riyadh is interested in joining the ICI but have not seen that interest materialise into action.

Riyadh has been courted by Nato before and the alliance remains eager to have the largest GCC country co-operating more closely with the alliance.

Oman maintains a neutral line on military issues, but there are reports that it has also expressed an interest in co-operating with Nato.

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The alliance opened a regional centre in Kuwait in January last year, its first such presence in the region.

“The Nato-ICI Centre represents an important milestone in Nato’s deepening co-operation with Kuwait and the entire region,” Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at the inauguration of the centre.

The centre is a focal point for collaboration between Nato and Gulf states in areas such as sharing of expertise, public diplomacy and strategic analysis.

Mr Stoltenberg said it was vital that Gulf countries worked with Nato because of their “shared security challenges” such as terrorism, weapons proliferation and failing states.

“The security of the Gulf is directly linked to the security of all Nato allies. We share the same aspirations for peace and stability,” he said.