London – British Prime Minister Theresa May stressed the importance of economic relations on Monday between Gulf States and the United Kingdom and her keenness on boosting cooperation in the fields of trade and investments.
The British premier vowed to work with Arab and Gulf countries to promote their security and stability, expressing Britain’s understanding of their concerns over Iran’s activities that destabilize the region.
On the eve of the 37th Gulf Cooperation Council Summit, which will witness for the first time the presence of a woman and a British leader, Asharq al-Awsat newspaper interviewed May, who described in earlier remarks her participation in the GCC Summit as a strong message that the United Kingdom had not withdrawn from the world, particularly the region.
Asked about her visit to the region and her opinion on the British-Gulf relations, May said she was honored to be the first British premier to attend the GCC annual summit, expressing hope that her visit would open a new chapter of relations between the United Kingdom and the Gulf.
“This year, we celebrate the passing of 200 years since the establishment of relations between the United Kingdom and Bahrain, as well as a century of ties with Saudi Arabia”, May said.
“However, over the past few years, relations between us did not seem as strong as our long history together – and I would like to change that,” she added.
The British premier noted that cooperation between the UK and Gulf States could extend over several fields, including combating terrorism, promoting investments, and assisting the Gulf in achieving the aspired reforms.
“Accordingly, I would like to build a true strategic partnership that would allow us to seize all opportunities ahead of us and guarantee the consolidation of security and prosperity to our people,” May said.
Asked whether further efforts were needed to stop Iran’s interference in the region, including Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Bahrain and Yemen, the British premier expressed her country’s commitment to support Gulf countries in halting any Iranian meddling in their internal affairs.
“We are fully committed to work with our partners in the Gulf to help them preserve their security,” May stated, adding: “We acknowledge concerns across the Gulf over Iran’s policies which destabilize the region and we firmly support Gulf States against any Iranian interference in their internal affairs.”
“We finally hope that the nuclear deal with Iran would lead to a great shift in Iranian relations with the international community,” the UK official stated.
Commenting on the British government’s keenness on boosting international economic cooperation in light of the Brexit referendum, May said that GCC countries were a “vital partner” to the United Kingdom. She noted that the Gulf represented the second largest market for British exports outside the European Union.
“I believe that there is a big opportunity to expand these relations in the coming years,” May added.
She also expressed her desire to see British companies share their skills and knowledge with Gulf countries, in order to help them achieve their ambitious visions of reforms in the region.
“There are tremendous opportunities in the fields of energy, education, infrastructure and healthcare”, she said.
“I also welcome Gulf investments in the United Kingdom, which would bolster our economy in the different parts of the country”, she added.
May stressed the importance of building stronger economic relations and promoting free trade between the UK and the Gulf.
Asked about the role of GCC member states, in particular Saudi Arabia, in promoting the values of moderation and dialogue and fighting terrorism in the Middle East and across the world, the British premier said that her country was keen on boosting cooperation with Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries in combating terrorism by promoting collaboration on border and aviation security, as well as adopting further measures to face terrorism-financing and protect vital infrastructure.
On whether the relations would change between Arab Muslims and Europe due to the rise of the far right in the Old Continent, the British prime minister said that more efforts should be deployed to benefit from globalization and to address the concerns of the marginalized populations.
She added that she was keen on building a country that serves the interests of all its citizens and residents.
Asked about how would U.S. President-elect Donald Trump deal with Russia’s aggressive strategies, Iranian threats and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, May said: “There are many challenges; countries across the world should cooperate to resolve them.”
She noted that she had two conversations with Trump since his election, and that they were both fully committed to maintaining strong relations between the UK and the United States, in particular in the fields of defense and security.