A NEW annual ministerial defence conference involving the US and Gulf countries was proposed by US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel at the Manama Dialogue yesterday.
He revealed the plan as he outlined America's global security priorities at the summit and hopes one will be held within six months, "to allow the US and GCC nations to take the next step".
Better integrated missile defence capacity and the sale of weapons to the GCC as a single entity, rather than to member states individually, were also high on the US's agenda, said Mr Hagel.
"Nations are stronger, not weaker, when they work together toward common interests," he told delegates during the opening session.
"The US is committed to supporting the GCC as an anchor for regional stability.
"We would like to expand our security operation with partners in the region by working in a co-ordinated way and selling defence articles to the GCC as an organisation.
"The GCC and its member nations will blaze their own path, their own way, but no-one should underestimate the promise that has been built here."
More than 50 government ministers, national security advisers and military chiefs from around the world are taking part in the ninth annual Manama Dialogue event.
Organised by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), the three-day summit, ends at the Ritz-Carlton Bahrain Hotel and Spa today.
Mr Hagel said the balance of power in the region had moved away from Iran towards the GCC, helped by the $75 billion of arms sales the US has approved since 2007, "which is almost as much as in the previous 15 years".
Speaking about the recent landmark interim deal between the P5+1 group of nations and Iran over its controversial nuclear programme, he said the US had bought time for negotiations, not deception.
"Iran has been a profoundly destabilising influence in the region," he added.
But Iranian Foreign Ministry adviser Dr Seyyed Kazem Sajjadpour accused Mr Hagel of ignoring the biggest nuclear threat in the region.
"You didn't mention Israel at all, which has 400 nuclear bombs in the Middle East," he said.
"This is the only country that has nuclear weapons (in the region.)
"You are putting all the pressure on Iran. Why? They have no nuclear bombs."
Mr Hagel pointed out that Iran was in violation "of many United Nations resolutions" adding that "yes, it's about nuclear weapons, but Iran poses other threats".
"The US has enduring interests in this critical region and we will remain fully committed to the security of our allies."
To underscore the scope of the US security commitment to the region, Hagel outlined the array of American military forces in the area, including more than 35,000 military personnel "in and immediately around the Gulf." Included in that figure were 10,000 army soldiers with tanks, artillery and helicopters.
He said the US has deployed its most advanced fighter aircraft in the region, including the radar-evading F-22.
More than 40 Navy vessels patrol the waters nearby, including an aircraft carrier and its supporting warships, he said.