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American Forces Press Service

Multilateral Cooperation Critical to Gulf Region Security, Gates Says

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

MANAMA, Bahrain, Dec. 8, 2007 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates pressed today for expanded multilateral cooperation that could better protect the Persian Gulf region against threats from Iran and other destabilizing forces.

While emphasizing the importance of U.S. bilateral ties with many countries in the region, Gates told delegates at the Manama Dialogue here, it’s time to pool their efforts more closely to bolster their collective security.

The annual summit, now in its fourth year, brings together about 200 senior military leaders from 23 countries to discuss mutual security interests.

Gates called broader security relationships, with closer multilateral ties and cooperation, “an absolute necessity” that will enhance the entire region’s security. Such a framework could help pave the way for a regional air and missile defense system that would provide a regional defense umbrella and deter a missile attack, he added.
Some elements that could contribute to such a system already are in the works. Just this week, the Defense Department notified Congress that it might sell upgraded AWACs airborne early warning systems to Saudi Arabia, and also announced a proposal to sell Patriot missile defense and early warning systems to Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
“We should bear in mind the deterrent effect such a system would have,” Gates said. “If the chances of a successful attack are greatly reduced, then so too is the value of pursuing offensive weapons systems and delivery systems.”

Gates told the delegates regional cooperation also would enhance maritime security by providing a better “maritime surface picture” and standardized procedures to improve defenses. These would help protect against seaborne threats such as terrorism, piracy, narcotics trafficking and smuggling, the secretary explained.

He also urged more cooperative military training and exercise participation to promote interoperability among participating countries’ armed forces.

While urging leaders to get their countries to work more closely together, Gates emphasized that the United States remains committed to the region. He told them operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the challenges they present, haven’t diminished U.S. resolve.

Gates quickly set the record straight when one delegate questioned whether some U.S. actions in the region consider U.S. interests alone.

With 40 years of personal engagement in the region, Gates told the questioner, he doesn’t have “enough fingers and toes to count the times when the United States has helped its friends and allies in the region – all of its friends and allies.”

He cited the U.S. role in liberating Kuwait from an Iraqi invader as a signal event, but said U.S. support goes far deeper.

“We have been the primary sponsor of virtually every peace agreement and cease-fire that has been signed in this region for the last 35 years.”

“We have exercised a constructive influence in trying to promote positive change,” he said.

Gates said the United States welcomes regional countries’ efforts to “create their own narrative” or chart their own courses.

“That’s the way it happens with sovereign states,” he said. “But the United States is a friend and an ally, and we are prepared to work with you. And the truth of the matter is, we help you create the security climate in which you can create your own narrative.”

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