By Salman Siddiqui
The UK is looking into its “options” of establishing a “more permanent” military “facility” in the Gulf region, Secretary of State for Defence Philip Hammond said yesterday.
He was responding to a question about the UK’s future military expansion plans in the Middle East at a press briefing in Doha yesterday.
“As we draw down from the combat situation in Afghanistan, where we have for many years had an opportunity to provide training to our forces through the deployments they do to Afghanistan, we have to think through how we will train our forces in desert warfare, in hot-conditions’ combat in the future, and certainly one of the options is to establish a more permanent facility, somewhere in the Gulf,” Hammond said.
The US has military bases in Qatar and Bahrain; while France reportedly too has a base in Abu Dhabi.
Hammond denied that the UK had already decided on Oman or any other GCC country to establish such a permanent base.
“It’s a possibility that we are looking at and we’re interested to discuss how to take that forward…We haven’t decided for sure to do this yet, but certainly it’s one of the options we are looking at,” he said.
The Secretary of State for Defence also said that the interest of the Western military might in the region was to only ensure peace and stability.
“The West is crucially dependent on a stable energy market above all else. Our economic recovery is fragile. Anything that calls for a spike in the oil price would derail it.
“The mostly likely scenario to cause that up spike is a surge in tension in this region, particularly in the Strait of Hormuz. It is very much in our interest to have a stable situation in the Gulf. That is why Western countries are prepared to invest so much in this region and supporting the Gulf states to maintain that stability,” he said.
The senior British official also said that it was in the interest of UK to maintain good bilateral relations with all GCC countries. Commenting on the recent diplomatic dispute between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, he said: “I don’t think it is for outsiders to get involved in these disagreements. These are disagreements between friends, between countries whose fundamental interests are aligned and who fundamentally face the same challenges. I’m sure that they will be resolved in a timely manner, so that the good and growing co-operation in the GCC can be resumed.”
About the UK and Qatar bilateral ties, he said they were getting stronger “all the time.”
He revealed that London was expecting HE the Prime Minister of Qatar to pay a visit before Ramadan this year and also the visit of HH the Emir in London later this year or early next.
Hammond termed his meeting with HH the Emir as “excellent,” where wide range of issues of mutual interest were discussed.
“We have excellent military to military contacts, we exercise together, we have officers in placement at various Qatari institutions and we are supporting the Qatari Armed Forces in their restructuring and reform programmes, and in their new capacity they are building, eg., the senior staff college project, where we are intimately involved in and we hope to be involved in the naval equivalent in the future as well,” he said.
He said that the UK had signed about QR230mn worth of arms deals at the recently held Dimdex 2014 defence exhibition in Doha. Page 34UK’s Secretary of State for Defence Philip Hammond. PICTURE: Jayaram