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UAE President: Doha summit an opportunity to mend Arab fences

posted on 26/03/2009: 851 views

UAE President HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan said yesterday that the UAE was looking forward to the forthcoming Arab Summit in the Qatari capital, Doha, because of the opportunity it would provide to mend fences in the Arab world and to settle regional issues amicably.

In an interview with the Qatari Al -Watan newspaper, Sheikh Khalifa said the Arab leaders taking part in the summit will open a new chapter of Arab collective work despite the current challenges facing the region. "The summit will tackle the regional issues, including the Palestinian issue in the light of the Israeli occupation, as well as the Golan Heights, issues related to Lebanon and the current situation in Iraq." He described the recent message from US President Barack Obama to Iran as 'positive' and a prelude to a serious dialogue that could bring to an end the perennial tension between the two countries.

Sheikh Khalifa said that the UAE consistently "calls for a dialogue to preserve stability, because we are against tension, whether between the US and Iran or others, in order to safeguard the security of Gulf and Arab region." He added that any coming together between the US and Iranian leaderships would keep this strategic region (the Gulf) free from wars and crises.

"Dialogue is required to overcome crisis. It is the sole channel to overcome problems in the region and to usher in a new era of peace and stability," he added.

On the issue of the three UAE islands occupied by Iran, Sheikh Khalifa said he hoped that the Iranian leadership would respond to "our demand and put things right by restoring the UAE sovereignty over the three Islands. After all, we are not requesting something impossible, but we are calling for legitimacy with regards to our three Islands - Abu Musa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb," the UAE President said.

He reiterated that the UAE would accept any ruling made by the International Court of Justice on the issue, whatever it might be.

Sheikh Khalifa went on to say that the "Iranian nuclear programme is a worry for us, particularly if it is not peaceful. We are against any non-peaceful nuclear programme in the region. And no one in the region will protest against the Iranian nuclear programme, if it is a peaceful one," he said.

He welcomed any efforts at mediation by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or other Arab leaders on the issue of the three UAE islands.

"We respect President al-Assad and welcome his mediation, and we also welcome any Arab mediation, because we need peace and justice and we only seek the restoration of legitimacy with regards to the three Islands." Sheikh Khalifa went on to call on the US, European countries and others to put pressure on Israel to accept a just and peaceful solution to the Palestinian problem in line with the Arab Peace Initiative, which provides for the setting up of an independent Palestinian State with Jerusalem (Al Quds) as its capital, in return for recognition of Israel by Arab states.

Commenting on the current world oil prices, the UAE President said: "the prices are low and as such they affect all. A fair price per barrel from our point of view is US $70 - US$75." On the plan to construct a bridge between Abu Dhabi and Doha, Sheikh Khalifa said that a proposal has been put forward and would be carried out in the best interest of the two countries and peoples.

"We are in consultation with HH Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Emir of Qatar, to remove the impediments which hamper the construction of the bridge," he added.

He said the global financial crisis has affected all countries. "It is natural that the UAE is also affected as we play pivotal regional and international financial and economic roles."

Sheikh Khalifa noted that when the global financial crisis began "we moved immediately to limit its effects locally by injecting liquidity into our banking system, and providing help to some corporations that were greatly affected by the crisis." Sheikh Khalifa called on the Palestinians to respond to the efforts being exerted by Egypt through placing the higher national interests against factional and partial ones. He expressed the hope that these efforts would lead to a solid and unified Palestinian position, able to cope with the issues of the next phase, whether of the peace process or reconstruction.

The full text of the interview with H.H Sheikh Khalifa.

Q- How do you view the Doha summit? What do you expect from the summit? And what are the major challenges?

A- We attach great importance to the Arab summit in Doha and wish good luck to the Arab leaders who will take part. We consider that meetings of the Arab leaders once or twice a year deliver fruits to this Ummah (Muslim nation), because they deliberate on the issues of the region and that concern its people, particularly the Palestinian issue amid the Israeli occupation, the issue of the Golan Heights, Lebanon and the current situation in Iraq.

Q- How far do you trust the ability of Qatar to make the Arab Summit a success?

A- We trust Qatar to hold the summit successfully and we also thank our brother, HH Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Than, Emir of Qatar, for this effort. It is not the first time for Qatar to hold a summit. It has also hosted Arab, Islamic and Gulf summits, as well as major international conferences. Qatar has been always a gathering point for Arab leaders in the pursuit of Arab solidarity. Following the Arab summit, Qatar will also host the Arab-Latin American summit. Qatar is to be commended for this gathering of the Arab leaders and their friends to deliberate on different issues. The Emir of Qatar is always well ahead when it comes to issues that benefit our people.

Q- Do you think the Arab Summit in Doha will bury the hatchet and bring about a unified comprehensive vision that will put an end to the Arab differences?

A- We in the UAE have high expectations of the Doha Arab Summit and our assessment is that it will be a success. Our brothers in Qatar have exerted great efforts to prepare for this summit. We hope the summit will open a new page for the collective Arab work. And we take a practical view of such work. The recent weeks have been hectic due to the efforts that have been made to mend fences between the Arab countries before the Doha summit takes place. We in the UAE have been a part of these contacts and meetings. We felt that there was a consensus on the need to overcome difference and to focus on the challenges facing us in the next period, particularly on the political and economic levels. On the political level there are many changes; on the economic level there are challenges and difficulties. There should be Arab mechanisms to tackle these issues.

Q- In regard to the US- Iranian relations, a historic initiative has been launched recently by US President Barack Obama to overcome three-decade standoff between the two countries.

A- We see the US President's message to Iran as positive and a prelude to serious dialogue, which would bring to an end the tension between the two countries. We in the UAE call for dialogue to preserve stability, meanwhile, we are against any crisis in the region, whether between the US and Iran or others, to safeguard the security of the Gulf and Arab region. Any coming together of the US and Iranian leadership will rid this strategic region of wars and conflicts.

Q- How did you receive in the UAE the content of the US message to Tehran and the call for a dialogue with Tehran?

A- As I said above, dialogue is required to settle the crisis, because it is the only means to avoid conflicts. We hope to see a practical vision for an amicable solution to usher in a new era of peace and stability in this region.

Q- Could this call for dialogue reflect on the issue of the UAE three Islands?

A- We hope that our brothers and neighbours Iranians will respond to our demands by handing over the Islands to the UAE. Our request is not an impossible one (to accept), since we are only asking that our legitimate rights to the three islands of Abu Musa, Greater Tunb Greater and Tunb Lesser be restored. We are looking forward to retrieving our sovereignty over the Islands through peaceful approach and dialogue. We have said repeatedly that the UAE will accept any ruling by the International Court of Justice, whether in our favour or not.

Q- British Prime Minister Gordon Brown sees threat over the proliferation of the Iranian nuclear programme. How do you view this statement?

A- The Iranian nuclear programme is worrying, particularly if it is not a peaceful one. We are against non-peaceful nuclear programmes in this region. No one will oppose the Iranian nuclear programme if it is a peaceful one. We in the UAE have accomplished some steps towards our own peaceful nuclear programme for generation of clean energy, which will meet the increasing needs of the UAE in regard to industry, development and urban expansion.

Q- Your Highness, what is your view on the recent announcement by Syrian President Bashar Assad that he is ready to act as a mediator with Iran?

A- As we said earlier, we stand for dialogue and reconciliation among nations, to settle differences in general and those related to our region in particular. That is because differences have yielded nothing but destruction, crises and wars, while dialogue helps reach development and cooperation in various spheres for the welfare of peoples.

Q- Do you welcome mediation with Iran by the Syrian President and other leaders to reach a solution to the issue of the three UAE islands occupied by Iran?

A- We respect President Assad and welcome his readiness to mediate with Iran to reach a solution to the issue of the three occupied UAE islands. We also welcome mediation by any Arab mediators because we are for peace and also because we seek only to regain our inalienable rights in the three islands.

Q- The arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir sets a dangerous precedent in international relations. What is your view on this warrant and what is the position of the United Arab Emirates on this particular issue?

A- We expressed our concern over the impact of the decision taken by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on the stability of Sudan and the current political dialogue as well as on the efforts being made to activate the political process in Darfur aimed at implementing the peace agreement.

At the same time, however, we expressed our astonishment at the fact that the same court did not pay attention to the crimes of genocide against the Palestinian people in Gaza.

Q- Your Highness, it seems that the incoming Israeli cabinet will be far to the extreme right under the Prime Minister-designate and Likud party leader, Benjamin Netanyahu. How will this reflect on regional peace and stability and to what extent will this contribute to a hindering of Middle East peace efforts?

A- We hope that the United States and European countries would maintain pressure on Israel to force it to approve a just and peaceful solution to the Palestinian cause. This is in harmony with the Arab Peace Initiative which entails the creation of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, in return for a recognition of Israel.

Extremists in Israel might well opt for the peaceful solution at any time, if they seriously consider a solution that would serve peace and stability in the whole region.

Q- Your Highness, there is no doubt that the Kuwaiti democratic experience sets a regional role model, with all its negative and positive aspects. What is your view on the tension between the Kuwaiti legislative and executive authorities? To what extent would this cast a shadow on your democratic experience in the United Arab Emirates?

A- We wish all the best to the leadership, government and people of our sisterly country, Kuwait. We hope that the new Kuwaiti cabinet will be formed and a new Parliament will be elected. We also hope that both bodies will engage in joint action to reunite, in the best interest of Kuwait and for the prosperity and the welfare of the Kuwaiti people.

Q- Away from politics to economics. Oil prices have significantly fallen to as low as US US$45 to 50 a barrel. As President of the world's fifth largest oil exporter, what is your view on this issue and what is the fair price for oil?

A- We believe that oil prices went up to inconceivable levels, but now are so low that some countries are not able to develop their oil fields because of the decrease of revenues.

We believe the low price of oil hurts the interests of everybody. A fair price for oil, in our view, should be anywhere between US$70 t0 US$75.

Q- Your Highness, there was recent talk about plans to construct a bridge between Abu Dhabi and Doha. Is this true?

A- The idea exists. God willing, we are working to implement it. I consult frequently with H.H Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani on ways to remove the obstacles to the construction of the bridge. We hope the construction would begin soon in the best interest of our two countries as well as of countries of the region.

Q- Your Highness, the sisterly bilateral relations between the UAE and Qatar set an example for relations among sisterly countries. What are the new horizons for the development of these relations, in the areas of economy and culture in particular?

A- Our relations with Qatar are not a political choice; rather they are historical ties which precede the recognised frameworks of diplomacy among countries. The kinship between us long ago emerged from historical and geographical facts. This is truly demonstrated by the two-way reciprocal free movement of UAE and Qatari citizens between the two countries as well as by the many standing family and economic affinities which continuously grow stronger. We consider our brothers in Qatar in the same way we consider the UAE citizens. We are one people in two political entities. I don't see any limits to the development of relations between our two countries. Venues of cooperation are wide open on both sides. As I said earlier, these relations are not formed by only the political will and desires of the leaderships of the two sisterly countries, rather they are a true embodiment of a living popular feeling to which we as a political leadership have to respond and with which we must interact.

Q- Your Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, what is your view of your current relations with the United States under President Barrack Obama? Do you think that the new American President will play an active and serious role in establishing a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East?

A- Our relations with the United States are old and are governed by fixed political realities which do not change as a result of succeeding US administrations. The first of these facts is that the United States is a great power which shoulders huge responsibilities for international peace, security and stability. Therefore, the relations with the United States are a necessity for any other country, regardless of any differences and different perspectives. Secondly, there is the accumulated legacy of relations between our two countries that has allowed us to make our point of view heard on regional and international issues as well as to build cooperation in many areas benefiting the interests of the two countries and strengthening the ties of friendship and reciprocal respect. Within this framework of political realities, we hope to continue working with the new US administration under President Barack Obama. We feel optimistic about his new approach towards many regional and international issues, and the situation in the Middle East and Iraq in particular.

We hope that the recent activity by the US, represented by the frequent visits by US officials to the region, would lead to serious action on the Arab-Israeli conflict to ensure the establishment of peace and security in the region as well as to allow citizens of the region's countries to devote their full attention to the process of construction and development.

- Q: What is your view of the efforts being made to re-unite the Palestinians and to persuade them of the need for national unity and the formation of a national reconciliation government? Are you playing any role in those efforts and is your role, if any, based on the historical keen interest of the United Arab Emirates in the Palestinian issue?

- A- We have always expressed our belief in the importance of uniting ranks and positions, not only within each Arab country, but also on the Pan-Arab level. Therefore, it goes without saying that the United Arab Emirates is sparing no efforts, both declared or undeclared, to unite the ranks of the Palestinians and to support, in this regard, all the good offices of Arab countries, in particular our big sister country, Egypt, which has hosted the dialogue among Palestinians factions. We call on our brother Palestinians to respond to those efforts and good offices and to prioritise the higher national interests over factional or partisan interests. We hope those efforts would result in building a solid Palestinian position that can meet the requirements of the coming stage, whether relevant to the peace process or to the process of reconstruction.

Q: The UAE's peaceful demand for the return of its three islands being occupied by Iran has produced nothing but escalation on the Iranian side, Don't you think that it is high time the UAE went to the International Court of Justice to seek a permanent solution to this problem?

A: Our peaceful approach to this problem of regaining control of our legitimate rights has never changed and will never be affected by whatever sort of escalation from the Iranian side may occur. We continue to hold to a solution through peaceful dialogue and bilateral negotiations as a means of finding a way out of this dispute or through going to the International Court of Justice or international arbitration. We have agreed in advance to whatever the judgment of the ICJ might be. Regarding your question on going to the International Court of Justice, I will say here that it is an option that we always put on the table, but as you know, it is an ICJ principle that the two sides of the arbitration must agree to seek arbitration from that court as a precondition before the court agrees to look into their case. This is something that has never happened in the case of the three islands. This is so because Iran continues to refuse to accept that the case be referred to the ICJ.

Q: Your Highness, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, are you not worried about a possible military confrontation between the US and Iran because of the latter's nuclear programme, particularly in view of Iran's insistence on having that programme?

A: As a matter of principle, we do not condone the use of force in solving international disputes no matter how far away the location of this dispute may be. How much more so, when it is next door! We always stress the need to listen to the sense of reason in resolving the differences on Iran's nuclear programme, which should be by peaceful means. We still hope these efforts will succeed. We also hope that all parties will exercise self-restraint and meet the demands of the international community on this issue.

Q: In your opinion, do you think Iraq is beginning to return to normal? Do you support an open policy towards Iraq by the countries in the region after the withdrawal of US forces next year?

A: Indications and reports reaching us show that there is significant improvement in this regard. There is a sharp fall in the number of security incidents and number of deaths. On the other hand, there is a significant improvement in the general climate in the country which was shown by the relatively successful provincial elections recently held in that country. As for an open policy towards Iraq by countries in the region, it is something that is actually happening. There have been a number of visits to Iraq by official delegations from Gulf and other Arab countries, and, moreover, a number of these countries have reopened their diplomatic missions in Iraq.

Q: The UAE has not escaped the negative effects of the global economic crisis. What measures have you taken to minimise the negative effects of the crisis?

A: The word "global" means the crisis has affected all, without exception ,although the effect may vary in intensity. Therefore, it is natural that we are also affected by the crisis since it is a global one, particularly in view of the fact that the UAE plays a vital financial and economic role at regional and international levels.

Since the crisis started to appear, we have moved fast to face it squarely by boosting liquidity in our banking system. We have also provided support for those of our institutions which have been badly affected by the crisis. We have also taken steps to contain the social effects likely to result from the crisis by taking a number of measures which have helped to minimise inflation and to strengthen control over prices for consumers. – Emirates News Agency, WAM


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