British Prime Minister Theresa May reaffirmed Britain’s close cooperation with the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), emphasising that Britain sees Iran as a threat to the stability of the Middle East and she was very clear that Britain cannot ignore “aggressive” Iranian actions in Syria and Yemen.
In her speech to the GCC Summit this week in Bahrain, May also made it clear that she regards the Iran nuclear deal as “vitally” important, despite any statement emerging from United States President-elect Donald Trump that he would rip up the deal. May said that the deal has neutralised the possibility of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons for more than a decade, as she listed its successes.
Nonetheless, it was encouraging that May was realistic about the threats from Iran to the region’s stability and it was important that she made a distinction between her support for the nuclear deal and her readiness to “confront state actors whose influence fuels instability”. In fact, she regarded the deal as making it easier to make more direct engagement with Iran on issues of concern in a “clear-eyed, hard-headed manner”.
May showed Britain’s willingness to be involved in the region by announcing a “permanent and enduring commitment” to the long-term security of the Gulf by investing more than £3 billion (Dh13.99 billion) in defence spending in the region over the next decade. This is designed to support what she called a “strategic partnership” to help boost security in Gulf countries, including defence investment and military training in Bahrain and Jordan. And the spending also includes a readiness to help in the ongoing conflicts in Yemen and Syria against Iranian involvement in the region, or against Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant).
As the British prime minister sought to reaffirm the centuries-old strategic links between the GCC countries and Britain, she was also looking to build a stable economic future for her country after it leaves the European Union. She welcomed the ongoing trade talks between the UK and the GCC and said that she hoped they would pave the way for an ambitious trade arrangement after Brexit.
May was “in search of an alternative to the economic stability that the EU provided for the UK before the Brexit vote”. GCC states already have bilateral trade agreements with Britain, and the EU has struggled to come to a Europe-wide deal with the GCC. Britain clearly hopes to fill that gap.