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GCC-UK foreign ministers commit to forge stronger ties

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UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss met with the foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states and the secretary general of the GCC on Monday at Chevening House, where they agreed to strengthen their relationship across all fields, according to a joint communique.

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“We have agreed to build stronger ties with the Gulf to create jobs, drive growth and make us all safer,” Truss wrote in a tweet.

In the communique, Truss and GCC foreign ministers “strongly condemned” the Iran-backed Houthis militia’s repeated attacks against civilians in Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

Iran

The UK and GCC foreign ministers expressed grave concern about the escalation in Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region.

They discussed the resumption of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) talks in Vienna and “underlined that this is the last opportunity to restore the JCPoA as Iran’s continued nuclear escalation is permanently eroding the benefits of the deal and undermining regional and international security,” according to the communique.

“They called on the new Iranian administration to play a positive regional role, abide by international norms, respect their neighbors’ sovereignty and territorial integrity, and refrain from supporting militant groups,” the communique added.

The ministers also condemned “the proliferation of advanced ballistic missiles” and Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) used by Iran and its proxies in hundreds of attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure in the region.

Truss met with Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, Oman’s Foreign Minister Sayyid Badr Albusaidi, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani, Kuwait’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmed Nasser Al Sabah, the Secretary General of the GCC Nayef al-Hajraf, and the United Arab Emirates’ Ambassador to the United Nations Lana Nusseibeh.

During the meeting, the UK and GCC foreign ministers emphasized the importance of enhancing people-to-people links, the joint statement read.

The ministers highlighted their belief that this ambitious strategic partnership between the UK and GCC member states is essential in promoting peace, security, stability and economic growth in the Middle East region and beyond, the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office stated.

According to the communique, the ministers have committed to expand GCC-UK shared ambition and develop the partnership in emerging areas such as clean technology, digital infrastructure and cyber, in order to “help keep UK and GCC citizens safe, and generate business opportunities and jobs”.

The foreign ministers of the UK and GCC also agreed to strengthen security and economic relations, paving the way for an era of closer cooperation in trade, cybersecurity and investment in green infrastructure in low and middle-income countries.

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Saudi Arabia’s Khalid bin Salman: We strive to bring Yemen within GCC system

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Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Minister of Defense Prince Khalid Bin Salman said on Tuesday that the Kingdom and Gulf countries are striving to bring Yemen within the GCC system so that its people can enjoy security and stability.

“The Kingdom and the Arab Gulf states seek to bring Yemen within the GCC system so that its people can enjoy security, stability and development like other Gulf nations. However, the Houthi militias chose terrorism and destruction and used the people of Yemen as firewood that serves the Iranian regime’s agenda. We assure the people of Yemen that they are from us and we are from them and we will always be on their side,” the Prince said in a tweet.

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He added that Houthi militias employ “false promises and repetitive illusions” to “deceive” Yemenis and “recruit them into a deadly war.”

“The time has come for Yemeni wisdom, and the wise men of Yemen, to forsake those illusions and promises, and to preserve the free people of Yemen from the tampering of terrorist militias,” the Prince said.

Prince Khalid’s statements come a day after the UAE’s capital Abu Dhabi was rocked on Monday when drone attacks led to a fire breaking out and resulted in the explosion of three petroleum tankers, killing three people and wounding six others. There was also another fire that broke out in the area of the new construction site of Abu Dhabi International Airport.

Yemen’s Houthi militia claimed responsibility for the attack saying it conducted an operation “deep in the UAE.”

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US worries Russian troop arrival could lead to nuclear weapons in Belarus

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The US is worried that the arrival of Russian troops in Belarus for exercises could become a permanent presence that might lead to nuclear weapons into the country, a senior State Department official told reporters Tuesday.

Russian military forces were moving into Belarus after Moscow-allied strongman Alexander Lukashenko announced Monday that the two countries will conduct military exercises next month.

The move, which came without customary advance notice being provided countries in the region, added to rising tensions with the West over the possible Russian invasion of Ukraine, which borders Belarus.

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The US official, speaking on grounds of anonymity, said the size of the Russian force arriving in Belarus was “beyond what we'd expect of a normal exercise.”

“The timing is notable and, of course, raises concerns that Russia could intend to station troops in Belarus under the guise of joint military exercises in order potentially to attack Ukraine,” the official said.

The official said that changes to the Belarus constitution in a referendum next month could allow the Russian military presence to become permanent.

“These draft constitutional changes may indicate Belarus plans to allow both Russian conventional and nuclear forces to be stationed on its territory,” the official said.

That would represent a “challenge to European security that may require a response,” the official said.

Belarus also borders NATO-member Poland.

“Over time, Lukashenko has relied more and more on Russia for all kinds of support. And we know that he doesn't get that support for free,” the US official said.

“It's clear Russia is preying on Lukashenko's vulnerability and calling in a little bit of accumulated IOUs,” the official said.

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North Korea tested tactical guided missiles in fresh sign of evolving arsenal

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North Korea fired tactical guided missiles on Monday, state media KCNA said on Tuesday, the latest in a series of recent tests that highlighted its evolving missile programs amid stalled denuclearisation talks.

The missile test was the North's fourth in 2022, with two previous launches involving “hypersonic missiles” capable of high speed and manoeuvring after lift-off, and another test on Friday using a pair of SRBMs fired from train cars.

The UN Security Council is likely to meet behind closed-doors on Thursday on the continued missile launches, diplomats said. The US, Britain, France, Ireland and Albania made the request on Tuesday for a Council discussion.

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South Korea's military said on Monday that North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) from an airport in its capital, Pyongyang, which flew about 380 km (236 miles) to a maximum altitude of 42,000 meters (137,800 feet).

The Academy of Defence Science conducted a test of tactical guided missiles from the country's west, and they “precisely hit an island target” off the east coast, the official KCNA news agency said on Tuesday, without elaborating.

“The test-fire was aimed to selectively evaluate tactical guided missiles being produced and deployed and to verify the accuracy of the weapon system,” KCNA said.

It “confirmed the accuracy, security and efficiency of the operation of the weapon system under production.”

The unusually rapid sequence of launches has drawn US condemnation and a push for new UN sanctions while Pyongyang warns of stronger actions, raising the spectre of a return to the period of “fire and fury” threats in 2017.

US Special Representative for North Korea Sung Kim urged Pyongyang to “cease its unlawful and destabilising activities” and reopen dialogue, saying he was open to meeting “without preconditions,” the State Department said after a call with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts.

South Korea's defence ministry said on Tuesday that it takes all North Korean missile launches as a “direct and serious threat,” but its military is capable of detecting and intercepting them.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric also called the North's tests “increasingly concerning” during a briefing, calling for all parties to return to talks to defuse tension and promote a “very verifiable denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.”

‘Show of force’

North Korea used Pyongyang's Sunan airport to test-fire the Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) in 2017, with leader Kim Jong Un in attendance.

North Korea has not tested its longest-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) or nuclear weapons since 2017, as a flurry of diplomacy with Washington unfolded from 2018. But it began testing a range of new SRBM designs after denuclearisation talks stalled and slipped back into a standoff following a failed summit in 2019.

Kim did not attend the latest test.

A photo released by KCNA showed a missile rising into the sky above a cloud of dust, belching flame.

Kim Dong-yup, a former South Korea Navy officer who teaches at Seoul's Kyungnam University, said North Korea appears to have fired KN-24 SRBMs, which were last tested in March 2020 and flew 410 km (255 miles) to a maximum altitude of 50,000 meters (164,042 feet).

The KN-24 resembles the US MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) and is designed to evade missile defences and carry out precision strikes, he said.

“The North seems to have already deployed and begun mass production of the KN-24,” Kim said, referring to the KCNA report.

“But essentially, the test could be another show of force to underline their recent warning of action.”

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