Background Briefing on the U.S.-Gulf Cooperation Council Meeting
MODERATOR: Thank you. We are delighted today to give you a background briefing on a meeting tomorrow that will be led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Panetta with participation as well from the National Security Council. It is a U.S. plus Gulf Cooperation Council meeting to strengthen and deepen our cooperation together.
We have three briefers today. For your records, Senior Administration Official Number One is [Senior Administration Official Number One], Senior Administration Official Number Two is [Senior Administration Official Number Two], and Senior Administration Official Number Three is [Senior Administration Official Number Three]. So without further ado, let’s go to Senior Administration Official Number One to open the briefing.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Thank you. Tomorrow’s GCC ministerial meeting with Secretary Clinton and Secretary Panetta really highlights the GCC-U.S. partnership for regional security. We have seen changes that have come throughout the region because of the Arab Awakening, but our shared goal of promoting regional security in the Gulf remains the same.
The GCC is emerging as an increasingly critical partner to advancing our common interest, which include but also extend beyond this shared vision for regional security on issues from Libya to Yemen to Syria, maritime security, counterterrorism, energy security, and countering weapons proliferation. U.S. collaboration with the GCC – with the six GCC countries working together as an institution – is critical, and I expect the discussion tomorrow will touch on all of those topics.
We have similar concerns about – for example, about the role that Iran tries to play in the region, and through a united position between the U.S. and the GCC, we send a powerful message to Iran that its aggressive activities undermine its regional standing.
Libya was an extraordinary example of shared leadership and cooperation, and the GCC came out early and strongly for UN action to protect innocent civilians from Qadhafi’s brutal attacks.
And Iraq is a critical player. We all have shared interest in its stability, sovereignty, and success. And it’s important to continue to build up Iraq’s relationships with its Gulf neighbors, not just for Iraq’s sake but because it is in the Gulf countries’ interests and Gulf security interests as well.
If I could sum up, I would just say that tomorrow’s meeting will be continuing to put the GCC at the heart of the regional – of the region’s security architecture, and in fact, starting to formalize how we work together between the United States and the GCC.
MODERATOR: Good. Senior Administration Official Number Two, please.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Okay. Good to be here. Secretary Panetta’s participation in tomorrow’s U.S.-GCC ministerial is intended to send a strong signal of how much we value these partners and the importance of not just the diplomatic relationship but also our security relationship. As [Senior Administration Official One] said, we share significant common interests, including countering extremism, stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, ensuring the free flow of commerce in the region, and addressing any threats posed by Iran.
So at the meeting tomorrow, Secretary Panetta will emphasize the need to strengthen and deepen the security architecture in the region, which already includes a number of important elements, including a robust schedule each year of multilateral and bilateral joint military exercises, cooperation on maritime security, including counter-smuggling, counter-piracy, and other issues of common concern. And there’s also increasing cooperation on ballistic missile defense and shared early warning.
So by deepening and expanding the cooperation, we want to send a strong signal to our partners regarding our enduring commitment to the security of the region. And it will also convey to Iran that if it continues its destabilizing activities in the region and refuses to meet its international obligations, it’s going to find itself less rather than more secure.
Secretary Panetta will also discuss Iraq and reaffirm our commitment to a long-term partnership with the Government of Iraq and its people. A relationship with the Iraqi security forces will be an important part of that partnership, and we will be encouraging our partners to do more to reintegrate Iraq into the region.
So we think it’s going to be an important opportunity for dialogue on some of the pressing security issues in the region, and we would hope that this can become a more regular form of dialogue with these key partners in the future.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Senior Administration Official Number Three, anything to add or shall we move to questions?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: I have nothing to add here.
MODERATOR: Terrific. This is how we’re going to do this, we’re going to take two from the room here in New York, then we’re going to take a few from the callers on the line, and then we’ll see where we go. Before we do that, Operator, can you explain to the folks on the call how to activate their buttons, please?
OPERATOR: Yes. If you would like an open line, you can press *1 and you will be queued. I will introduce you into the call.
MODERATOR: Okay, good. So first, two from the room here. Please speak loudly so our friends on the call can hear you.
QUESTION: In your conversations this morning and in your conversations with the GCC, are you going to discuss measures to handle any potential violence that might arise after UNGA and the Palestinian bid for statehood? The Secretary has expressed great concern about the possibility of violence. I’m just wondering what you’re going to plan (inaudible).
MODERATOR: Other briefers, were you able to hear the question?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: It was a little faint. Could you repeat it?
MODERATOR: The question went to whether this is a forum that can be used to discuss quelling any potential violence after New York and related to Israeli-Palestinian issues.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I mean, first of all, all of our partners share that same goal that we have of an independent, viable Palestinian state. And we’ve seen this week, for example, Saudi Arabia coming forth with the announcement of $200 million in additional aid for the Palestinian Authority’s budget needs, which I think demonstrates the type of commitment they have to not only seeing that the Palestinian aspirations for state are (inaudible), but the day-to-day living conditions of the Palestinians remain good, remains strong, that the salaries are paid and services are rendered.
We are, of course, discussing with the Israelis and the Palestinians directly the security issues that you raise, because one always has to plan for all contingencies. We have been impressed with the developments of the security services of the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad over the past few years. We’ve also been impressed with the gains they have made in how they are able to use peaceful means to control demonstrations. We saw examples of that again yesterday, while there were some minor incidents, that in general you had peaceful Palestinian demonstrators with Palestinian police protection and control. So we are watching this issue and it’s one that we’re in direct contact with both our Israeli and Palestinian partners on.
MODERATOR: Other briefers anything to add?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: Not from here, no.
MODERATOR: Okay. Lachlan.
QUESTION: Yeah. This is Lachlan Carmichael, AFP. For Senior Official Number Two, you talked about deepening and expanding the cooperation with the GCC. Are you talking about simply the exercises you mentioned? And what kind of new exercises would you have compared to what you had in the past, and are you thinking of any military sales?
MODERATOR: Where you able to hear that, [Senior Administration Official Two]?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah, I did. I think we’re looking tomorrow to talk about more longer-term forms of cooperation rather than presenting proposals for any specific new military exercises. As I said, we already have a pretty robust program each year. But I think in the areas of maritime security, regional missile defense, we see opportunities to do things more on a multilateral basis than has been the case hitherto for, building on the bilateral ties that we already have with some of the key partners and doing things more in a U.S.-GCC framework. So that, I think, will be one of the themes that Secretary Panetta will be emphasizing.
QUESTION: Can you expand on regional missile defense? You mean exercises to (inaudible)?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Lach, I don’t want to get too deeply into the specifics, but I think several of our partners are acquiring missile defense assets. The U.S. has Patriot systems deployed in several of the countries in the region. And I think there could be some advantages by bringing the experts from each of the countries together to discuss ways that we could mutually reinforce one another’s capabilities, as we’re doing on the European level, to enable countries to get the advantages of a multilateral network approach to regional missile defense.
MODERATOR: Good, thanks. Operator, do you have calls from folks on the line?
OPERATOR: I have Dan De Luce from AFP. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Yes. Is there a danger or risk that the U.S. promoting ties with these Gulf countries runs counter to the sort of democratic uprisings of the Arab Spring, that these countries represent the past and undemocratic rule?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Look, there’s been a lot of changes in the region that we’ve witnessed this year with the Arab Awakening. As I said before, even though we have new opportunities because of these changes – the ability to promote human rights and democracy in places like Egypt and Tunisia – we also have a lot of strategic interests that remain constant, that remain the same. And Gulf security, with all the aspects that we mentioned in our opening remarks, is certainly one of those enduring strategic interests that we have in the region. And so I think it makes a lot of sense that we’re looking at more formal mechanisms to work with the GCC on these enduring interests.
But I also note on the political side, the GCC was, in fact, the first international sort of grouping of states that came together to denounce what Qadhafi was doing to his own people. The GCC, that in its communiqué and its meetings in February, provoked the Arab League to suspend Libya’s membership from the Arab League. And that, of course, then helped us get the Security Council resolution that we needed to put in the civilian protection mission.
So the GCC is an important partner when it comes to our enduring interest regarding Gulf security, and it’s also becoming a more assertive partner on the international and regional stage on these political issues, such as Libya.
MODERATOR: Good. Operator, anybody else on your side? Operator, anybody else calling in on your lines, please?
OPERATOR: There are no further phone questions. No further questions on the phone.
MODERATOR: Okay. Any further questions from the room? Steve Myers, New York Times.
QUESTION: Could I ask you gentlemen to follow up a little bit on the discussion on Iraq? You talked about enhancing cooperation with the GCC on Iraq. Where – how does that fit into the negotiations now underway over the U.S. presence in Iraq itself and maybe elsewhere in the Gulf as a result of the drawdown?
MODERATOR: [Senior Administration Official Two], were you able to hear that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. I think I got the gist.
I think part of our message, as I mentioned about the importance of reintegrating Iraq into the region, is sort of how this all fits together. We, as I said, are working to develop a long-term partnership with Iraq. Last month, the Iraqi political leadership indicated publicly that they’re interested in an ongoing training relationship with the United States after 2011, and we’re currently in discussions with the Iraqi Government about the nature and the scope of that relationship.
But regardless of the outcome of those talks, the United States is going to stay committed to the security of the region and to a long-term security partnership with Iraq. So I think we want to see our GCC partners do their part in helping strengthen Iraq politically and economically, help make it a success story in terms of its democratic reform process, and that this can be a factor both for greater prosperity in the region and also an important counterweight to Iranian influence, which is a key concern of our GCC partners.
MODERATOR: [Senior Administration Official Three], do you want to add anything there?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: Yeah. I mean – I’m sorry. What was the exact question?
MODERATOR: Was how this forum and our talk there about Iraq links up with the U.S. drawdown and our discussions with the Iraqi Government about a future training role.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: Yeah. Well, I think [Senior Administration Official Two] hit the right points there. I mean, from our perspective – and you heard the President articulate this in his speech before the UN yesterday, where he said that we will have a different relationship with Iraq at the end of this year, consistent with our – the commitments we’ve made, that we will have a robust security relationship, we hope, as part of a broader relationship.
And so I think the message is that, in a sense, we’re not going anywhere. We’re going to be around. We still care deeply about the security of the region and the security of Iraq and our broader relationship with Iraq going forward.
MODERATOR: Good. Operator, I understand you have no further questions on your lines. Is that right?
OPERATOR: That’s correct.
MODERATOR: Anybody else in the room?
QUESTION: Is there any reason why we shouldn’t regard this basically as not aimed at Iraq but – at Iran – excuse me – but largely a way to develop better ties to help contain (inaudible)?
MODERATOR: That was Arshad Mohammed from Reuters.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Arshad, I think you have put your finger on one of the key shared interests that we have with the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries, which is the concern with the role that Iraq – Iran, I’m sorry – Iran too often has played in the region and the ambitions that Iran may have.
But I would look at this more as a positive vision going forward, because we’re looking at ways that we are working together with our partners to provide the type of foundations for Gulf security well into the future that allows the freedom of navigation, that prevents proliferation of weapons, all that sort of stuff.
And you’re right that we are motivated in part by our concern about Iran. But the partnership with the GCC goes far beyond that, and we want to use tomorrow’s meeting to really reinforce the long-term commitment we have to a positive vision for Gulf security.
MODERATOR: Any other briefers have anything to add there?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: Yeah. I’d just add that it’s no surprise that Iran is going to be on the agenda. I mean, if you look back at the last couple of GCC meetings and the statements that have been issued afterwards, they have quite vociferously expressed their concerns about Iranian interference in the region. And so since this is going to be a broad regional discussion that’s going to be held tomorrow, it’s no surprise that Iran is on the agenda.
MODERATOR: Good. If there are no further questions, then I want to thank our briefers and thank those for participating.