SECURITY challenges facing the Middle East will be the focus of a major conference which starts in Bahrain tomorrow.
Policy-makers, defence experts and intelligence chiefs from around the world will gather for the 13th International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Regional Security Summit: The Manama Dialogue 2017.
The three-day forum, which is being held at The Ritz-Carlton Bahrain until Sunday, will feature discussions on regional security, defence co-operation, extremism, conflicts in Syria and Yemen and international efforts to combat terrorism.
US Secretary of Defence James Mattis will be heading his country’s delegation while a UK team will include Minister of State for the Middle East Alistair Burt.
Indian Minister of State for External Affairs M J Akbar will address a plenary session.
“He will also meet the Bahraini leadership to discuss bilateral, regional and global issues of mutual interest,” said an Indian External Affairs Ministry statement.
It is not clear whether delegates from Iran and Qatar have been invited for the premier defence security summit.
Senior ministers from Gulf and Arab countries are also expected to attend the annual event which kicks off with bilateral meetings between officials, followed by a specialised televised debate held in conjunction with Sky News Arabia.
Four plenary sessions will be held the following day focusing on US policy and Middle East stability, creating a stable regional security architecture, political and military responses to extremism in the Middle East, and security partnerships in the Middle East.
The final day will feature four special, closed-door sessions. They will cover prospects for conflict resolution in Syria and Yemen, defence co-operation and modernisation in the Gulf, international campaign against terrorism, and the security imperative of economic reform.
The concluding plenary session, International Politics of Middle East Security, will be held at the end of the final day.
“The IISS Manama Dialogue is a unique security summit,” said IISS director-general and chief executive Dr John Chipman in a message ahead of the conference.
“It is the only event that brings together the national security establishments of the Gulf and the wider Middle East with their opposite numbers in Europe, North America and Asia.”
Dr Chipman, in his message posted on IISS YouTube account, said this year the Manama Dialogue will examine conflicts in the region namely in Iraq, Yemen and Syria.
“The big questions in Iraq are about forming a real government of national unity and we will be discussing the ways in which the different forces in Iraq can ensure that they work towards a genuinely Iraqi model of governance.
“In Yemen, we’ll be looking closely at the nature of that conflict where Saudi-backed forces are battling rebels supported by Iran.
“And in Syria we’ll be examining more the diplomatic challenges where we see a lot of the diplomatic running being done by Russia, Turkey and Iran – with the European powers and the US more in the background.
“A major question that will influence the discussions will be the nature of the geo-political rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and also very important will be examining the economic dimensions of security as so many of the countries in this region are attempting to diversify their economies away from oil, in order to create more job prospects for their youthful populations.
“Our hope is that at this Manama Dialogue new ideas are promoted, new diplomatic relationships formed and new security partnerships created in the interest of advancing peace and prosperity in the Middle East.”
UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was the keynote speaker at last year’s conference, while other high-profile guests to address the forum included Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, King Abdullah of Jordan, former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and former UK foreign minister William Hague.