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Opening Statement as Delivered at U.S.-GCC Defense Ministerial Joint Press Conference, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

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Secretary of Defense Ash Carter
April 20, 2016
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Thank you, Secretary General Zayani.  I’d also like to thank our hosts here in Saudi Arabia, particularly my Saudi counterpart, Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman, for the hospitality and the partnership.  It’s good to be here in Riyadh with our partners from the Gulf Cooperation Council.  

For the past 35 years, the United States and the GCC have worked together to develop robust relationships and enhance regional security.  We’ve stood together since the days of the Cold War – from the Iranian Revolution, to Operation Desert Storm, to the aftermath of 9/11, to our coalition’s campaign against ISIL in Iraq and Syria.  And now, we look forward to building on all this progress and experience, to bring our partnership into a new era.

Today I reaffirmed the United States’ enduring commitments to the security of our Gulf partners, including the commitments President Obama made at last May’s U.S.-GCC Summit at Camp David.  And ahead of President Obama’s visit and tomorrow’s U.S.-GCC Leaders’ Summit, we had a productive series of meetings this morning with defense ministers from each of the GCC countries – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and Kuwait.

Our discussions focused on three principal areas, which, among others, will also be discussed at tomorrow’s Summit:  delivering ISIL a lasting defeat; countering Iran’s destabilizing activities across the region; and ensuring that our nations’ combined capabilities against both of these threats match our combined commitments.

On the first, we discussed what more we’re doing to accelerate the lasting defeat of ISIL.  Earlier this week in Iraq, I announced several steps the United States will be taking to support Iraqi Security Forces in operations to retake Mosul.  And today, I encouraged our GCC partners to do more as well…not only militarily, as Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been doing – and I really appreciate that – but also politically and economically.  That’s because Sunni support for multi-sectarian governance and reconstruction, particularly in Sunni areas of Iraq, will both be critical to ensuring that ISIL stays defeated.

On Iran, I noted the United States shares with our GCC partners  the view that, even as the nuclear accord verifiably prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, there are many more issues to be concerned with regarding Iran’s behavior in the region.  That’s one reason why I emphasized that the nuclear accord imposes no limits on the United States, and that what we’re doing in the Department of Defense hasn’t changed.  In our posture, our preparedness, our planning, and our partnership, the U.S. military remains committed and capable of responding to Iranian malign and destabilizing activities, and deterring aggression against our regional friends and allies,including all GCC nations.

And finally, on capabilities to counter both symmetric, and, particularly, asymmetric threats, we reviewed the six key areas where we agreed at Camp David to focus our cooperation:  special operations, maritime security, cyber security, ballistic missile defense, exercises, and arms transfers.

Over the last year, we’ve made important progress across these areas.  I’ll give you some examples. One, U.S. and GCC special operations forces are working together more closely than ever, including in war zones.  Our countries are doing more to advance regional maritime security, with combined naval task forces patrolling the vitally important waterways of this region.  We’re working together to develop a blueprint for a regional ballistic missile defense architecture.  We’ve also collaborated in almost 40 exercises together since Camp David, practicing integrated air and missile defense, combined arms, tactical air operations, special operations, and maritime operations…one example of that being the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise going on this month.  And we’ve made important strides in providing GCC nations with critical defense equipment – over $33 billion dollars’ worth since last May, including over 66,000 precision-guided munitions to support urgent GCC operational requirements, such as the counter-ISIL campaign.

I’m confident that based on our discussions today, the United States and our GCC partners will be able to take important steps forward in these and other areas.  And I expect you’ll hear more about that tomorrow after the Summit.