Caption: Shaikh Khalifa with the Nato delegation - BNA

Manama: Bahrain and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) have agreed to widen relations and boost cooperation to serve common interests and reinforce peace and stability in the region.

Bahrain Defence Force (BDF) Commander-in-Chief Marshall Shaikh Khalifa Bin Ahmad Al Khalifa and Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (DSACT), Polish General Mieczyslaw Bieniek stressed in Bahrain the significance of their military coordination and reviewed issues of common interest, Bahrain News Agency (BNA) reported on Wednesday.

“The BDF Commander-in-Chief praised the outstanding relations between Bahrain and Nato,” the official news agency said. “The Nato delegation was briefed on the BDF’s participation and role in international missions to contribute to global security and peace.”

Bahrain, a major non-Nato ally since 2002, has often expressed interest in closer ties with the military alliance.

In January, King Hamad Bin Eisa Al Khalifa said Bahrain was keen to improve its relations and cooperation with Nato.

Receiving a delegation from Nato’s Parliament Assembly Sub-Committee on Transatlantic Defence and Security Cooperation, King Hamad said Bahrain wanted to exchange expertise in areas that reinforced security, stability and peace in the region and the world.

The Bahraini monarch praised Nato’s “positive efforts and effective contributions to bringing peace and preserving security and stability in the region and other areas throughout the world”.

King Hamad also expressed his gratitude to Nato for its “keen interest in developing cooperation with Bahrain in the military and security fields.”

Bahrain and fellow Gulf Cooperation Council countries have been pushing for closer cooperation with the transatlantic alliance since 2004 when Nato launched the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI) to “contribute to long-term global and regional security by offering GCC countries practical bilateral security cooperation with Nato”.

Nato officials said the ICI was complementary, but distinct from the Mediterranean Dialogue Nato launched in December 1994, with countries in North Africa and eastern Mediterranean.

Kuwait joined the ICI in December 2004, followed by Bahrain and Qatar in February 2005 and the UAE in June 2005.

In 2006, Kuwait became the first ICI country to host the North Atlantic Council (NAC) for a conference on cooperation with Gulf Countries. The NAC later took part in conferences in Bahrain in 2008 and in the UAE in 2009.

In December, Kuwait announced that it allocated a piece of land to Nato in Kuwait as part of the ICI.

“The move consolidates Kuwait’s interest in international missions, especially that Kuwait was the first GCC country to join the ICI,” Shaikh Sabah Al Khalid, the deputy prime minister and foreign minister, said.

The land will be used by Nato as a training site under the ICI, he added.

The Nato training site in Kuwait is the first to be set up in a GCC state.

At its Chicago summit in May, Nato in its final communiqué said that it looked forward to a better understanding of common security threats in the region.

“We will strengthen political dialogue and practical cooperation in the ICI,” the communiqué said. “We warmly welcome the generous offer by the State of Kuwait to host an ICI Regional Centre, which will help us to better understand common security challenges, and discuss how to address them together. We encourage our ICI partner countries to be proactive in exploiting the opportunities offered by their partnership with Nato. We remain open to receiving new members in the ICI,” the 28-member alliance said.