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News, May 2015
US Pledges Robust Defense for GCC, Missile Shield to Take Years to Complete
May 15, 2015
Washington pledges robust defense for GCC
Arab News, Friday, 15 May 2015
US President Barack Obama on Thursday updated leaders from Gulf states on international efforts to forge a nuclear deal with Iran, said Ben Rhodes, US deputy national security adviser.
Rhodes said the US would welcome support from Gulf countries for the deal, which many Arab leaders are concerned would empower Iran to work in destabilizing ways in the region.
The White House said the first day of the summit focused on the Iranian nuclear deal. To go through the details of nuclear talks with Iran, Obama brought along his secretaries of treasury, state, energy as well as CIA director — and former Riyadh station chief — John Brennan.
The summit discussed prospects of speedy US military assistance for the Gulf countries including missile defense systems, the White House said. “We have received requests from the GCC states to get more weapons even before the summit,” a White House spokesman said.
He emphasized that the US would continue its efforts to strengthen the defense capabilities of GCC countries.
Obama is expected to offer the GCC countries more military
assistance, including increased joint exercises and coordination on
ballistic missile systems.
Just two heads of state are among those meeting Obama, with other nations sending lower-level but still influential representatives.
On Sunday, Saudi Arabia announced that Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman was skipping the summit. The heads of the UAE and Oman have had health problems and were not making the trip. Bahrain’s royal court announced Wednesday that rather than travel to Washington, King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa would be attending a horse show and meeting with Queen Elizabeth.
The Gulf summit comes as the US and five other nations work to reach an agreement with Iran by the end of June to curb its nuclear efforts in exchange for relief from international economic sanctions. The Gulf nations fear that an easing of sanctions will only facilitate Iran’s aggression.
The White House says a nuclear accord could clear the way for more productive discussions with Iran about its reputed terror links.
Fri May 15, 2015 1:06am EDT
WASHINGTON | By Andrea Shalal
A U.S.-supplied missile shield to protect Gulf nations against Iranian attacks will take years to complete, requiring a step-up in regional trust, more U.S. sales of sensitive weapons, and intensive U.S. training to avoid mishaps in the volatile region.
A renewed joint commitment to build the regional defense system was one of the few firm outcomes of Thursday's Camp David summit between President Barack Obama and Gulf allies, which were seeking fresh U.S. defense pledges ahead of a possible nuclear deal they fear will empower arch-rival Iran.
Past efforts have stalled due to tension and mistrust within the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) but U.S. and Gulf officials say the time is now ripe to push ahead as Arab nations mount more joint military missions.
A joint statement following the summit said that the GCC states were committed to developing a ballistic missile defense capability, including an early warning system, with U.S. technical help. Washington pledged to fast-track arms transfers to the GCC states and to send a team to the region in the coming weeks to discuss the details.
The Gulf nations fear that the sanctions relief that would accompany a nuclear deal with Tehran due by June 30 could revive Iran's economy and enable it to acquire more accurate and reliable missiles.
An integrated defense system would allow Gulf countries to better repel an Iranian attack, stitching together their radars and interceptors to counter a range of different missiles.
The system would use U.S. early-warning satellites and a mix of U.S. and Gulf radars to detect the launch of an enemy missile and fire a ground- or sea-based missile to destroy it far above the earth.
CLOSER SHARING NEEDED
Lockheed Martin Corp, Raytheon Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp would be key contenders to build a central command-and-control system for the shield since they already do similar work for the U.S. military and key allies.
The biggest challenge to making the shield work would be securing a broad agreement on the rules for dealing with any threats, said Anthony Cordesman, a senior analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"You have to work out the entire engagement structure before the first missile is ever launched," Cordesman said.
Getting to that point will require unprecedented agreements between the U.S. military and the GCC, and among the often rancorous Gulf allies, to share sensitive data to avoid the risk of a friendly aircraft being shot down by mistake, experts said.
Intensive U.S.-led training would also be vital to minimize the risk of mishaps, U.S. officials say.
The U.S. military already has 10 Patriot missile batteries to defend against short-range ballistic missiles in the Gulf region and Jordan, as well as a powerful AN-TPY-2 radar system to scan for missile launches, according to U.S. officials.
The Gulf countries are upgrading their existing Raytheon Patriot systems to incorporate new PAC-3 missiles built by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin Corp, and are starting to buy wider-area and longer-range systems like the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), built by Lockheed.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told reporters in Washington this week that Gulf countries would need new ground-based networks and computer terminals to manage those systems.
He said the Gulf countries also wanted longer-range options like the Raytheon SM-3 missile, which has not yet been released for export to the region.
Washington has balked at selling a land-based Aegis combat system to deal with missile threats and any associated SM-3 missiles to Gulf countries, largely because such a system would be best suited to dealing with threats outside the earth's atmosphere that are beyond Iran's capability, Cordesman said.
Washington's decision in December to allow U.S. arms sales to the GCC as an organization - similar to its arrangement with NATO - helped pave the way for progress on integrating missile defense and maritime security systems.
“That’s a huge step in the right direction,” said a U.S. official, who was not authorized to speak publicly.
Cordesman said Raytheon's new SM-6 missile could prove useful to address Gulf concerns since it could address threats inside the earth's atmosphere as well as outside.
U.S. officials had no immediate comment on whether the Gulf countries had made any formal request for the SM-6 system.
Al-Jubeir cautioned against expecting rapid progress on missile defense integration.
"Those are complicated systems that take time to acquire and then take time to put in place," he said. "You can’t buy these things off the shelf and take them home the day you buy them ... One has to come before the other."
Obama vows to 'stand by' Gulf allies amid concern over Iran threat
Fri May 15, 2015 3:06am EDT
President Barack Obama vowed on Thursday to back Gulf allies against any "external attack," seeking to reassure them of Washington's iron-clad commitment to their security amid Arab anxiety over U.S.-led efforts to reach a nuclear deal with Iran.
Hosting the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council for a rare summit at Camp David, Obama pledged that the United States would consider using military force to defend them and would also help counter Iran's "destabilizing activities in the region."
"I am reaffirming our iron-clad commitment to the security of our Gulf partners," Obama told a closing news conference at the presidential retreat outside Washington.
Obama stopped short of offering a formal defense treaty that some Gulf countries had sought. Instead he announced more modest measures, including integrating ballistic missile defense systems, beefing up cyber and maritime security, streamlining weapons sales and increasing joint military exercises.
The United States and five other world powers are seeking to reach a final deal with Iran on curbing its nuclear program by a June 30 deadline. The GCC agreed in a joint communique that a "comprehensive, verifiable" accord with Tehran would be in their security interests.
But Obama did not go as far as saying the Sunni Arab states had committed to backing the outcome of the talks with Iran, their Shi'ite arch-rival. The Saudi foreign minister made clear, in fact, that his government was withholding judgment for now.
Obama also sought to allay Gulf Arab concerns that the potential lifting of international sanctions on Tehran would embolden it to fuel more sectarian strife in the region.
Differences over U.S. policy toward Tehran, Syria’s civil war and the Arab Spring uprisings loomed over the meetings, which were already clouded by the absence of most of the
Gulf’s ruling monarchs, who instead sent lower-level officials.
Saudi King Salman pulled out, sending Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in his place in a move widely interpreted as a snub that reflected Gulf frustration with the Obama administration. The White House insisted that such decisions were not intended as slights.
OBAMA'S BALANCING ACT
The GCC consists of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. Obama sought to strike a balance between trying to ease their fears about his diplomacy with Iran and squeezing the oil-rich states to work together more in their own defense.
"The United States will stand by our GCC partners against external attack," Obama said, with Gulf leaders by his side.
But he then told a news conference it was a "two-way street" and Gulf countries, which have differences among themselves, must also cooperate better. A summit joint statement showed the GCC states committing to develop a U.S.-assisted region-wide missile defense system, something Washington has long advocated.
However, it was unclear whether Obama had made significant headway toward Gulf Arab backing for an emerging Iran deal. The White House had hoped at least for a toning-down of any criticism. That could help convince a skeptical U.S. Congress of broad backing in the region, where U.S. ally Israel stands as the most vocal opponent of Obama's diplomatic effort.
Israel, widely believed to be the Middle East's only nuclear-armed state, has so far offered no overt criticism of the proposed strengthening of Gulf Arab defenses, suggesting that it is open to anything that challenges Iran's power in the region.
Gulf states, in the final communique, stopped short of endorsing a framework deal reached last month that envisages sanctions relief in return for curbs on Tehran's nuclear program. The agreement aims to prevent Iran from developing an atomic weapon, although Tehran has long maintained its nuclear program is purely for peaceful use.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said his country favors efforts to negotiate the closing of Iran's nuclear weapons pathways, but told reporters: "We will follow the talks and see before we can judge."
The White House said it does not want to see a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Some Saudi officials have hinted at pursuing the kingdom's own nuclear technology if any final deal leaves Iran with too much leeway to develop a weapon.
Gulf leaders are concerned that lifting sanctions would allow Tehran to increase funding for Shi'ite militias in volatile countries such as Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon.
The Saudis and other Gulf states have also been accused of fueling sectarian proxy wars involving their neighbors.
Obama seemed at one point to play down any non-nuclear threat from Iran. But he said Gulf states needed to shore up their defenses, including security for the world's most important oil routes.
Iranian naval vessels fired warning shots over a Singapore-flagged vessel in international waters in the Gulf on Thursday, prompting the oil products tanker to flee to UAE waters, according to U.S. officials.
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