British Prime Minister Theresa May has said that she wants to deepen defence cooperation with Gulf countries and work towards signing “an ambitious trade agreement” with them.
Addressing the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) annual summit in the Bahraini capital Manama on Wednesday, May said that Britain wanted to “make a more permanent and more enduring commitment to the long-term security of the Gulf” and invest more than three billion pounds ($3.7bn) in defence spending in the region over the next decade.
“Gulf security is our security,” she told the council, which brings together the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman.
“In challenging times you turn to your oldest and most dependable friends …”
May said that she wanted a “strategic partnership” to help boost security in Gulf countries, including defence investment and military training in Bahrain and Jordan.
During here televised speech, May also touched upon issues such as the ongoing conflicts in Yemen and Syria as well as the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group.
“May talked about how they will confront the threat of ISIL together, and how they will confront Iranian involvement or interference in Yemen,” Al Jazeera’s Jamal Elshayyal, who had been following the GCC summit from Doha, said.
“But overall it is possible to say that she was mainly looking for the economic good news that the UK desperately needs at the moment.”
Improving trade ties
The prime minister also spoke about discussions to improve trade ties with Gulf countries as Britain prepares to leave the European Union.
“I want these talks to pave the way for an ambitious trade arrangement” after Brexit, she said.
Theresa May was “in search of an alternative to the economic stability that the EU provided for the UK before the Brexit vote,” Al Jazeera’s Elshayyal said.
“May now sees an opportunity in the GCC, not only because of the vast natural resources that are here, but also because of the idea that the GCC countries between themselves have a lot of trade agreements already in place.
“So, to her, setting up a trade agreement here is like setting up something with a much bigger entity rather than just looking for bilateral trade ties between the UK and another country.”
King Salman of Gulf heavyweight Saudi Arabia opened the two-day summit on Tuesday with a call for a “doubling of efforts” to face regional challenges.
Al Jazeera Media Network (AJMN) was blocked from covering the GCC summit on the ground, as Elshayyal was refused entry at Bahrain International Airport on Tuesday even though AJMN had followed all necessary procedures and submitted all requested documents to the relevant authorities on time.
Bahrain’s information ministry did not immediately return repeated calls and emails seeking comment.
It was not the first time Bahraini authorities have prevented Al Jazeera from reporting on events in the country.
“Manama previously blocked Al Jazeera’s reporters from covering the 30th GCC summit, without providing convincing reasons,” AJMN said in a statement released on Tuesday.
“The network had prepared for special, comprehensive coverage of this important event,” it added.
No official reason has been received from Bahraini officials on why AJMN was refused entry.