ISTANBUL - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called Wednesday for closer ties among allies in the battle against the Islamic State militant group.
Kerry, speaking on the sidelines of a NATO meeting of foreign ministers in the Turkish Mediterranean resort city of Antalya, called for a more coherent approach among the six nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council, known as the GCC, and the rest of the wider alliance of countries fighting the Islamic State group.
"Defining a clearer defense arrangement among the GCC and other friendly countries and the United States is going to be critical to helping to push back against the terrorism, as well as some of the other activities that take place in that region that are unsettling," he said.
The GCC consists of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.
Analysts say suspicions persist that the priority of some GCC countries remains ousting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad rather than fighting the Islamic State group.
Host Turkey, too, has been critical of Washington’s approach, saying the removal of the Assad regime is key to returning stability to Syria and ultimately ending the threat of groups like the Islamic State.
The NATO meeting coincides with the launch of a train-and-equip program that aims to train thousands of rebel forces to combat the Islamic State militants. The program has been delayed, reportedly over Ankara's calls for those trained to also be used in the fight against Syrian regime forces.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, speaking ahead of the two-day meeting of the alliance, emphasized the importance of defeating the Islamic State group, also known as ISIL, and said there is room for improvement.
"One of the important issues at this meeting, in different formats, will be how NATO can do even more in fighting terrorism and in fighting ISIL," Stoltenberg said.
The NATO meeting is also focusing on the crisis in Ukraine. Stoltenberg blamed Russia for the situation and called for Moscow to end its support of separatists. Moscow denies giving any support to pro-Russian separatists.
Secretary Kerry, fresh from talks on Tuesday with Russia President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, said in Antalya that it is a "critical moment" for Russia and separatists to fulfill a peace deal aimed at ending fighting in eastern Ukraine.
Video report by Jeff Custer
After the NATO meeting, Kerry is to fly back to the United States ahead of a summit of GCC countries outside Washington.
The summit comes as analysts say there is concern among the GCC over a framework agreement between Washington and Iran over its nuclear aspirations.
The predominantly Sunni countries of the GCC increasingly see Shi'ite Iran as a rival, if not a threat, to their power in the region and have voiced concern over any warming of relations between Tehran and Washington.