US-GCC forum ends with call for greater understanding


Attendees, at the same time, were divided in their expectations about policies to be adopted by US President-elect Barack Obama.

Majid Al-Moneef, chairman of the GCC energy team, gave an overview of US-Gulf relations in the fields of energy and environment, while Abdulaziz Sager, chief of the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center (GRC), delivered the forum’s concluding remarks.

A range of issues affecting relations between the US and the GCC were examined at the forum’s three sessions yesterday. Panel members looked in depth at different aspects of political, security, defense, economic and energy issues that play a role in the relationship.

The forum was also addressed by Fatima Al-Shamsi, secretary-general of the UAE University, Asaad Al-Shamlan, director of the Center of European Studies at the Riyadh-based Institute of Diplomatic Studies (IDS), and Rebecca Winchester, public affairs counselor at the US Embassy.

Among session attendees were Saad Al-Ammar, IDS director, Abdulmohsen Al-Akkas, former minister of social affairs, Lama Al-Soleman, JCCI board member, Haytham H. Linawi, vice dean of Research and Consulting Institute at the Jeddah-based King Abdulaziz University, and professor Abdulkarim Al-Dekhayel of King Saud University.

In his concluding remarks, Sagar said each side should understand the interests, priorities and concerns of the other. He said people were expecting the new US administration to quickly forge a productive working relationship with the Gulf region.

He, however, lamented that US policy on the Arab-Israeli conflict casts its shadow on GCC-US relations and has been embarrassing for the Arab allies of the United States.

Sager called on the new US administration to reconsider American policies toward the conflict, which fuels tensions in the Middle East in general.

Referring to US-GCC relations in the field of education, Abdulrahman M. Abouammoh, chief of the Center for Higher Education, Research and Studies at the Ministry of Higher Education, called for a revival in US-GCC educational activities on the model of a proposed agreement between the EU and the GCC, which is reasonably progressing.

He added that intercultural dialogue, better understanding and joint projects are indispensable tools in improving relations.

But, these efforts will take time to take root. “In fact, the first university, King Saud University, in the Gulf or in the whole Arabian Peninsula for that matter, was established only in 1957,” said Abouammoh, a professor at the Riyadh-based university.

“At the moment, KSU with its six satellite campuses has more than 120,000 students on its rolls,” he said.

Winchester said the US and GCC have forged closer educational ties. “At the moment, more than 30,000 Gulf students, including 18,000 Saudis, are on the rolls of US universities, which represent an increase compared to the previous years or the peak year,” she said, adding that the number of Saudi and Gulf students has been progressively growing in the US contrary to the popular perception that students from the Gulf are discouraged to pursue education in the US.

Answering a question about the delay in visa issuance and treatment by immigration officials at US airports, she said 52 percent of visa applications are processed within 15 days, while only four percent of applications take more than two months.

The panel of speakers at the end expected a better understanding of GCC problems and compulsions with regard to the bloc’s security, education and environment.

“The nature of US involvement in GCC countries in reality is much more diverse and complex than a focus on their energy resources alone would suggest,” said a commentator from the audience before forum members left the hall for a farewell dinner.


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