GCC appoints new chief of joint military command at Riyadh summit

UAE announced as host of 2019 meeting as bloc stresses regional co-operation on security

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The GCC announced the appointment of a new chief of its joint military command on Sunday after a brief summit in the Saudi capital at which members pledged to work together to achieve regional stability and security.

The GCC also announced that the UAE would be the host of the next summit in 2019.

GCC Secretary General Abdullatif Al Zayani said that Lt General Eid Awwad Al Shulaiwi will be appointed as the new military commander to the GCC Military Command in King Khalid Military City in Hafar Al Batan. He was the former commander of the Saudi Arabian Army, also known as the Saudi Royal Land Forces.

The joint military command was announced in 1984 as one several areas of co-operation for the GCC. The GCC Military Command, in its current iteration, was established in 2013

However, the proposal for a wider Middle East Security Alliance (Mesa) was not addressed at length during the summit, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir said.

Mr Al Jubeir said the alliance was "under discussions between the GCC and still evolving”.

Mesa is a “security arrangement to counter Iranian aggression and the co-operation between the US and GCC, it’s a work in progress that both sides want to see succeed."

For the second year running, the annual GCC summit was reduced to a single day, instead of the usual two to three days, as the bloc grapples with a diplomatic crisis arising from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain cutting ties with Qatar over behaviour they view as reckless and meddling.

An indicator of the organisation’s struggles was the absence of Qatari Emir Tamim Al Thani at the meeting in Riyadh, while last year the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and UAE were absent from the summit hosted by Kuwait. Kuwait and Oman have remained neutral in the dispute.

Nevertheless, closed-door talks that lasted less than an hour resulted in a joint communique from the 39th GCC summit in which the six member states placed regional stability at the top of the agenda.

Besides strengthening joint security and defence, the seven-point Riyadh Declaration called for a road map towards further economic integration, joint foreign policy to preserve the GCC's interests and avoid regional and international conflict, and a strengthening of partnerships and co-operation with international allies.

Saudi Arabia's King Salman called for political solutions to Yemen and Palestine at the opening of the 2018 GCC summit. AP. File.
Saudi Arabia's King Salman called for political solutions to Yemen and Palestine at the opening of the 2018 GCC summit. AP. File.

Saudi Arabia's King Salman spoke of the need for co-operation on regional security and stability in his opening address.

"The region goes through challenges, terrorism, and the Iranian threat which meddles in the affairs of our countries, I urge everyone to work cooperatively to create stability in the region and abroad,” King Salman said.

The Saudi king also called for a political solution to the civil war in Yemen, voicing support for the peace talks taking place in Sweden.

He said members of the Arab coalition have called on the internationally-recognised Yemeni government to "save Yemen and its people from a group of people who have turned against the legitimacy of the state and have meddled with its security and stability" referring to the Itan-backed Houthi rebels.

King Salman cited the Palestinian cause as another troubling concern, saying that the country "and its capital, Jerusalem" was still among the top priorities of the GCC.

In his remarks, the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad addressed the GCC schism head-on, saying fact that "this session has convened on its scheduled date despite the conditions that we are passing through, confirms our commitment to maintaining the GCC as an entity".

He an "alarming escalation" in the problems of the region should push member states to reinforce the unity of the GCC and strengthen co-operation.

"The most dangerous obstacle we face is the struggle within the GCC," said Sheikh Sabah, who has acted as mediator in the dispute. He said it was a "threat to the unity of our position and the interests of our people".

The emir, who played a key role in the GCC’s formation in 1981 while he was Kuwait’s foreign minister, also called for media outlets to end offensive campaigns that have harmed "our values, our principles and have planted the seeds of sedition and disunity among our people".


Read more:

All eyes on Qatar ahead of 39th GCC summit

Yemen’s warring parties meet for first direct talks since 2016


Prior to the opening session, officials from the states boycotting Qatar suggested that a solution to the crisis might be found in Riyadh, heightening expectations that mutual concessions could be made. However such hopes were dashed by Qatar sending lower-ranking officials instead of its leaders.

Awadh Al Qahtani, a Saudi-based analyst attending the summit, downplayed Qatar's absence and said he did not think it was a particular message.

"Qatar's attendance doesn't define the GCC. It continues to function regardless of the representation present at any one given summit it holds," he said. "We were hoping that the brotherly letter sent by King Salman would be responded to by Qatar's attendance, if nothing but to show their buy-in to the GCC.”

King Salman's letter of invitation to Qatar's emir had been seen by some as an olive branch that might lead to a resolution to the standoff, rather than simply a matter of protocol.

Mr Al Qahtani  said GCC countries have opposed one another before and was nothing new, although the unity of the bloc had to be maintained.

In 2014, another diplomatic dispute with Qatar was resolved when the late Saudi King Abdullah invited the Gulf countries to the capital and a decision was made to resume ties with Doha after an eight-month standoff.

"We hope that Qatar can return to the GCC and fix it ways. The GCC has more than 39 years as a functional body and it will continue whether or not these disagreements happen,' he said.

Besides being very brief, no foreign ministers meeting was scheduled at the Riyadh summit for the first time since 2015.

The curtailment indicates the political reality of the GCC: it functions largely as a technocratic institution that has achieved and continues to work for economic co-operation but falls short on political unity. However, the GCC has also been the most stable organisation in the Middle East — a notable feat considering the situation in several Arab countries.