Manama: North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) Secretary General Anders Rasmussen said that the 28-member alliance was interested in developing its strategic relations with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

“As we look to the Wales Summit this September, we will work on ways to deepen our political dialogue and practical cooperation,” Rasmussen said as he opened the meeting between the Nato foreign ministers and representatives from Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, the four GCC countries that have partnered with Nato through the Istanbul Conference Initiative (ICI).

“We will discuss how we can tailor our cooperation so that it fits our Gulf partners’ specific security needs,” the Nato Secretary General said on Wednesday at the alliance headquarters in Brussels.

The ICI was launched at the alliance’s summit in the Turkish coastal city in June 2004 to contribute to long-term global and regional security by offering GCC countries practical bilateral security cooperation with Nato.

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

“The launch of our initiative 10 years ago was a clear signal,” Rasmussen said at the meeting in the Belgian capital. “The security and stability of the Gulf region is of strategic interest to Nato. Just as the security and stability of the Euro-Atlantic area matters to the Gulf region. We need to protect our sea-lanes, energy supply routes, and cyber-networks. We face complex and interconnected security challenges, such as terrorism, piracy and proliferation. They are challenges that we need to tackle together,” he said.

Over the past decade, the dialogue and cooperation between Nato and the ICI member states have steadily intensified, he said.

“From Bosnia to Kosovo, and from Afghanistan to Libya, our Gulf partners have made valuable contributions to Nato-led operations. And we have tailored our practical cooperation to the specific security needs of our Gulf partners,” Rasmussen said.

The meeting at the level of foreign ministers between Nato and ICI countries was the first since the official launch of the initiative in June 2004.

“Today, we will discuss how we can continue to deepen our partnership and how Nato can work more closely with all Gulf countries. To build a truly strategic relationship between the Euro-Atlantic and the Gulf regions,” Rasmussen said.

According to Nato, the ICI countries have become during the last 10 years of their partnership with the alliance, “efficient security providers and have contributed to international efforts in protecting stability and security, including the Nato ISAF operation in Afghanistan and Operation Unified Protector in Libya in 2011.”

The ICI offers a diversified menu of practical cooperation activities from which the member countries can choose.

Activities include tailored advice on defence transformation, defence budgeting and civil-military relations; military-to-military cooperation including through selected military exercises; civil emergency planning and joint public diplomacy activities.

The ICI is complementary to, but distinct from, the Mediterranean Dialogue that Nato launched in December 1994, with countries in North Africa and Eastern Mediterranean.