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US President Obama pledges economic and security cooperation to Gulf states

After a meeting of the US-Gulf Cooperation Council, President Obama pledged to continue working together to fight the so-called 'Islamic State.' He said Gulf leaders shared a 'common vision' with the US.

President Barack Obama said he and the Gulf leaders had agreed on ways to move forward in the campaign against the self-declared "Islamic State" (IS). He said that members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) agreed to "increase their contributions to the fight," as part of a shared "common vision."

US President Barack Obama giving press statement in Riyadh

US President Barack Obama makes a statement following the GCC summit in Riyadh.

Obama was speaking at the close of the six-nation US-Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Riyadh on Thursday at the end of his brief visit to the Saudi kingdom. Besides Saudi Arabia, the GCC includes the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain.

The US president also said that the Arab nations had agreed to

help Iraq.

This followed his request to Gulf countries to increase their financial and political support for the rebuilding program in Iraq, following years of war.

On the situation in Syria, Obama said the ceasefire was under "tremendous strain." He condemned the continued violations of the fragile truce but insisted the US strategy of using diplomatic talks for a political transition should be continued. He said that Gulf leaders at the summit had agreed with his position that "this violence is yet another reminder that there's just one way to end this civil war."

Gulf states have pressed for more to be done to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power.

Ongoing concerns

However, there was not agreement on all issues in the region. The main point of contention remains relations with Iran. Gulf states are wary of the nuclear deal made with Tehran last year and are skeptical of Obama's willingness to negotiate with the Shiite nation. The Gulf states fear the new agreements with the Islamic Republic will lead to a rebalancing of regional stances at their expense.

Addressing these concerns, Obama admitted that even with the deal, the US and its Gulf partners had "serious concerns" about Iran, including arms shipments it had made, which have been interdicted. "We will remain vigilant to make sure Iran fulfills its commitments, just as we fulfill ours," Obama said.

The US president insisted: "None of our nations have an interest in conflict with Iran."

Other issues of concern include relations with Lebanon, where Saudi Arabia recently cut its support due to the Beirut government's links with Shiite Islamist militant group, Hezbollah. Obama insisted relations with the Gulf states had been positive over the last year, especially in dealing with difficult situations in Libya and in Yemen.

Economic cooperation

On economic cooperation, Obama said: "The United States and the GCC will launch a new high-level economic dialogue with a focus on adjusting to lower oil prices, increasing our economic ties and supporting GCC reforms as they work to provide jobs and opportunities to their young people and all of their citizens."

Obama leaves Saudi Arabia for London later on Thursday where he will join Britain's Queen Elizabeth for lunch at Windsor Castle, a day after the monarch celebrated her 90th birthday. He is expected to make a statement on the upcoming "in or out" referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union. Obama is also due to visit the trade fair in Hannover.

jm/msh (AP, AFP)

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