Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel arrived here today to participate in a Gulf Cooperation Council defense ministerial conference.

The bulk of the meetings will take place tomorrow, but shortly after arriving here today, Hagel met with Saudi Vice Defense Minister Salman bin Sultan.

“Secretary Hagel expressed his appreciation for Saudi leaders hosting the US-GCC Strategic Defense Dialogue, the first meeting of its kind since 2008,” Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement summarizing the meeting, noting that the two defense leaders last met at the Pentagon in March.

They discussed regional threats and challenges, Kirby added, including Iran and Syria and the importance of maintaining close cooperation on these and other issues in the region.

“Secretary Hagel emphasized the long-standing and enduring U.S.-Saudi defense partnership and U.S. commitment to stability and security in the region,” the press secretary said.

While en route here, Hagel told reporters that he first called for the meeting in December during the Manama Dialogue.

“I suggested this … to try to develop a forum — an opportunity — to advance regional partnerships, cooperation [and] strategy more than maybe we have in the past,” he said.

The meeting also is aimed at reassuring the United States’ partners of its commitment to the region, the defense secretary said.

The challenges the United States faces in the Middle East can’t be solved without the partnership and participation of the Gulf Cooperation Council member nations, a defense official said. Meetings like this one reflect the defense secretary’s commitment to regional approaches, the official added.

Developing the capabilities of GCC countries is one part of the effort to reassure these partners, Hagel said, specifically in cybersecurity, air and maritime security, and missile defense.

The forum is not meant to substitute for bilateral relationships, defense officials said. Instead, it is intended to serve as an opportunity to discuss regional threats that also affect the United States and to find ways the U.S. can help leverage the abilities of the member nations, the officials explained.

“That’s what Secretary Hagel talked about last December when he talked about designating the GCC as an entity to be eligible to receive foreign military sales,” a defense official said. The meeting is a small step in that direction, the official added.

Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of U.S. Central Command, also will take part in the ministerial.