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UAE nuclear programme is peaceful: Khalifa

posted on 23/12/2008: 809 views



President HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan has expressed his hope that the United States under President-elect Barack Obama would play a proactive role in achieving a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East and also work to reinforce security and stability in the Gulf region.

Speaking to the London-based Al Hayat Arabic daily, Sheikh Khalifa said that the UAE's demand to regain its right over the three occupied islands does not negate the possibility of cooperation with Iran.

On the issue of the Iranian nuclear standoff, Sheikh Khalifa reiterated the UAE position which calls for a nuke-free Middle East.

The onus, he said, is on Iran to assure the International community that its nuclear programme is peaceful.

Sheikh Khalifa added that any establishment of a security order in the Gulf with Iran as a member must be preceded by conformity of views on the Gulf security and stability.

Asked about the possibility of war between the United States and Iran over the issue of nuclear standoff, Sheikh Khalifa said: "Any military conflict in the Gulf region will be opposed by the UAE because we stand for peaceful settlement of disputes. As for the Iranian nuclear programme, it has become an international issue which is well beyond the Gulf region".

Sheikh Khalifa observed that the spate of violence in Iraq has receded, a development which, he said, should encourage countries of the region to open up to Iraq, not to interfere in its affairs but rather to help its government to overcome its problems.

On the upcoming GCC summit which will be held later this month in Muscat, Sheikh Khalifa noted that regional and international developments will make it imperative for the Gulf leaders to evolve a unified vision. This is in addition to cementing inter-GCC cooperation and implementing agreements.

On the UAE nuclear programme, Sheikh Khalifa said: "We reiterate that our nuclear programme is peaceful. We are satisfied with the steps taken so far in this respect, most notably with regard to agreements that have been signed with a number of developed countries which are renowned for peaceful nuclear energy."

Sheikh Khalifa went on to highlight the UAE's armament programme, saying that its core aim was to upgrade the defence capability of the UAE Armed Forces as well as upgrading its level of preparedness.

On the situation in Lebanon, Sheikh Khalifa said he was pleased with the developments that occurred in Lebanon this year, particularly the election of the head of state and the subsequent formation of a government of national unity.

Commenting on the current global financial crisis, Sheikh Khalifa said the UAE was not immuned from this crisis but added that it was able to ward off its adverse effects, thanks to the country's sound and solid financial and economic infrastructure.

The UAE president also touched on the issue of the declining world oil prices, saying: "We should also realise that this crisis will be transitional. Therefore, producing countries should brace for a high demand on oil - with the expected recovery in the world oil market".

Following is the full text of the interview:

Question 1: The dominant international event is the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States. How do you see the coming of a new president to the White House and what are its implications on the UAE-US relations as well as on the wider Gulf region and the Middle East?

Answer: Our relations with the United States have been characterized by friendship and cooperation in various fields. I think our relations with the new administration will build on this friendship and we shall endeavour to reinforce these ties in a manner that will serve the best interest of the two countries.

There is no doubt that the United States, given its crucial role in maintaining global peace and stability, has a special responsibility to bring peace to the troubled hotpots in the world.

It is our hope that the United States under President-elect Barack Obama would play a proactive role in achieving a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East. We also hope to see the new administration working to reinforce security and stability in the Gulf region.

Question 2: Despite of the firm position taken by the UAE vis-a-vis the issue of its three islands occupied by Iran, it has been noted that UAE-Iranian relations have seen a few ups and downs, the latest of which being the visit to Tehran by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Minister for Foreign Affairs and the subsequent signing of an agreement to set up a joint committee between the two countries. How do you see future relations between the two countries? And do you think that a continued dialogue with Iran will ultimately lead to the settlement of the isles issue?

Answer: Iran is a Muslim and neighbouring country. And our relations tend to take different shapes and dimensions. Moreover, we share vast and varied interests. Therefore, it has long been our view that our quest to regain our three islands occupied by Iran since 1971 - either through direct talks or through international arbitration- does not negate the possibility of cooperation with Iran as long as this cooperation would reinforce the stability of the Gulf region and bolster bilateral economic cooperation.

It is in this context that the visit of Sheikh Abdullah should be seen. The joint committee which has been set up will discuss all the outstanding issues between the two countries. It is our hope that the issue of the occupied isles would be tabled before this committee on the hope that a serious and positive dialogue would commence.

Question 3: There has been a talk for sometime now about the need to set up a security order in the Gulf region in which Iran shall be a member. What is the UAE position on this proposal?

Answer Security and stability of the Gulf is a paramount objective for all countries of the region. It is our view that all countries should do their utmost to achieve this goal.

However, in order to establish a security order in the Gulf in which Iran shall be a member, there must be some kind of conformity of views on the very concept of Gulf security and stability. We can see that the Gulf Cooperation Council countries (GCC) have evolved a common vision with respect to regional security and stability. And they are doing everything within their power to diffuse tensions. We must see similar endeavours being made by other countries in the region, particularly in view of the fact that the Gulf region is major oil producing region as well as a vital route for international navigation. Further still, it is a region where regional and international interests are so intertwined. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that a common security vision is evolved even before talking of establishing any security order.

Question 4: There has been a talk about possible US/Western confrontation with Iran over the issue of the Iranian nuclear programme. Do you see such a possibility fading away, especially with election of Barack Obama? How do you see an end to this standoff?

Answer: Any military conflict in the Gulf region will be opposed by the UAE because we stand for peaceful settlement of disputes. As for the Iranian nuclear programme, it has become an international issue which is well beyond the Gulf region. We have often called for the need to ward off nuclear dangers from our region. And we stand for a nuke-free Middle East in general. As for Iran, the onus is on Tehran now to assure the International community that its nuclear programme is peaceful. Having said that, we re-affirm our position that all countries, including Iran, are entitled to acquire a peaceful nuclear technology.

Q5 - What about the UAE nuclear programme and what are the steps the UAE has taken so far given the understanding of countries of the world to its peaceful purposes and their willingness to cooperate with the UAE? A- The main and key theme of our nuclear programme is based on peaceful nature within the framework of full and obsolute transparency.

Our thought of launching this programme was motivated by our vision for future demands of energy which are ever increasing with our development expansions in various sectors which automatically need more electricity power.

We believe our record and credibility in our foreign policy have provided this programme - from early phases of feasibility studies up to the most advanced phases - with international cooperation and support from all concerned countries and international specialised organisations.

We are satisfied with the steps taken so far in this respect, most notably with regard to agreements that have been signed with a number of advanced countries acquiring peaceful nuclear energy. Our hope is to make accelerating steps in implementing our peaceful nuclear programme in accordance with the highest standards of security and safety. We also hope that our programme will set a model to be emulated by other countries in the region.

Q6- The diplomatic and political movement between the UAE and Iraq has been active in the recent time and the UAE has dispatched its ambassador to Baghdad and waived Iraq debt. How do you view the future of Iraq in light of scores of changes that have taken place locally and internationally and what is your approach of Iraq status within the Gulf and Arab fold?

A- We are satisfied with the progress of our relations with sister Iraq which have been based and will remain rest on our belief in the unity, stability and security of Iraq. From this point of view, we have decided to write off Iraq debt, name our ambassador to Baghdad and activate our embassy there.

We believe that the security and stability of Iraq along with Iraq's strategic location and dynamic forces will weigh on our region in general. Therefore, the countries of the region should open up positively towards Iraq, refrain from interfering in its internal affairs and provide all forms of support and assistance to the government and people of Iraq so as to surpass their crises.

We are also content with decline in the spate of violence in Iraq. We are confident Iraq will overcome all dangers and challenges it is facing now and establish its national unity in order to take its natural place in the Gulf, Arab and international fold.

Q7 - How do you view the Palestinian situation amid the internal division? and change in the White House and the upcoming Israeli elections. Do you think there is still a chance for making peace in Middle East in the near future?

A- We have been and still calling for closing the Palestinian ranks and responding to the Arab peace initiatives and other previous and current efforts for achieving Palestinian national unity as the only way before the Palestinian people to restore their rights and establish their independent state.

We are certainly sure that any international vision including that of the new US administration towards the Palestinian Cause will be more positive the Palestinian unity.

We, in the UAE, continuously support any Arab overture to achieve Palestinian reconciliation and we are also in favour of any effort to revive the Palestinian- Israel peace negotiations in line with the Arab Peace Initiative and international legitimacy resolutions for the establishment of the Palestinian state with Al Quds as its capital.

We hope that the recent action taken by the UN Security Council would revive the peace process swiftly and effectively. We also hope the new US administration along with the international community would take serious measures to put that resolution into action.

Q8 -How do you view the latest developments in the Lebanese front since the Doha understanding up to the election of Lebanese president and the reconciliation between the Lebanese parties and resumption of the Lebanese-Syrian dialogue and agreement for establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries. Given the UAE distinguished bonds with Lebanon, how do you envisage the role the UAE can play to push the Lebanese-Syrian dialogue forward in view of the upcoming parliamentary elections?

A-We are looking forward with high hope and optimism to the steps which have been achieved in regards to the national reconciliation which started following the Doha agreement passing through the election of the new Lebanese president, restructuring of the national unity government and launch of the national dialogue up to preparations to the parliamentary elections.

We also highly appreciate the Syrian-Lebanese agreement for establishing bilateral diplomatic ties, thus laying the foundation for brotherly bonds between the two peoples.

We, in the UAE, will spare no effort to stand behind our brethrens in Lebanon and assist them implement their national programmes at all levels.

As you know we have directed an open invitation to the Lebanese President, Michel Suleiman, to visit the UAE and we are looking forward to meet him shortly. We believe this meeting will provide a good opportunity to get first hand information about the positive developments Lebanon is witnessing and explore the role the UAE can assume in strengthening national unity and protect gains achieved recently in a way that protects security and stability of Lebanon.

Q 9: International sources revealed that the UAE was considering the purchase of an air defence rocket system. Where does this step fare in the country's armament programmes and what is its goal?

A 9: Our armament programme is based on our vision that security and peace always need strength to protect them. Therefore, our armament programme has always been of a defensive nature. It is founded on providing necessary means to support our armed forces and to boost their readiness.

Q 10: The GCC summit is scheduled to be held in Muscat by the end of this month. How do you view this summit and the issue on its agenda?

A 10: We look forward to the upcoming GCC summit in Muscat and think that this summit, hosted by the Sultanate of Oman under the aegis of my brother His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Saeed, draws a great importance due to the developments witnessed both regionally and internationally. Probably that's why the Muscat summit is confronted with a huge responsibility to pool efforts in order to come up with a unified and comprehensive vision for dealing with regional and international matters and for proceeding with what had been agreed upon in strengthening joint GCC action and speeding up implementation of agreements such as the GCC single currency, the GCC common market, the GCC citizenship, in addition to enhancing security and military cooperation among the member countries, including the joint Peninsula Shield forces. I am confident that His Majesty Sultan Qaboos' patronage of the summit will add more value to our joint efforts and actions.

Q 11: Lately, we have seen the Arab League getting more active on numerous Arab issues .. Do you think that the League is starting to play more effective role .. and, what is your vision for an expanded role of the League and for pushing the joint Arab action into new horizons?

A 11: We agree that the Arab League is beginning to take a positive action in dealing with the pending and pressing Arab issues. As we appreciate these efforts, we hope that the League will play more active role. We think that what we can give more support to the Arab League's endeavours to enable it achieve tangible results. We have seen the League actively involved in Lebanon, Darfur, and Palestine and in talks with regional and international blocs. We look forward to develop the League's mechanisms which will eventually lead into more effective and productive outcome for the interest of our Arab nation and our peoples.

Q 12: The UAE recently celebrated its 37th national day anniversary. What is your vision for future steps aimed at further achievements for the federation?

A 12: Our celebration of the 37th anniversary of federation has given us an impetus for more efforts and work to achieve further progress. The celebrations were a real testimony to how the UAE people are closely attached to their leadership and how they believe that serious and determined efforts must be made to continue our drive for development and to fulfil our national objectives.

The meeting of Federal Supreme Council that coincided with the celebrations was yet another proof of how swift we could move to enhance our federation, including the introduction of constitutional amendments approved by the FSC, in a way that will focus energies and capabilities to build the country and to boost its image among other nations.

Q 13: There is much talk these days about further development to the Federal National Council, following the step of electing half of the members and enabling women to join the legislative body. What is new in your vision for the FNC?

A 13: As I mentioned before, we have introduced constitutional changes to further expand FNC's role. We have taken many steps to improve performance of the FNC, including new mechanism for election and appointment of members and enabling women to join as members.

We take this opportunity to laud the FNC's decisions taken during its last meeting, including approval of a constitutional change, extending its term from two to four years, setting a timeframe for each term and briefing the Council about international agreements signed by the UAE. No doubt, these amendments come as part of a comprehensive vision to boost the FNC's role, and in accordance with carefully studied steps that take into consideration the current stage and developments witnessed in our country.

Q 14: looking from a wider perspective to the labour question, there appears the demographic structure as one of the major challenges facing the Emarati community. What steps contemplated to address the issue?

A 14: We view the demographic structure from a positive perspective, reflecting the ability of our country as a melting point for various kinds of people, within a human-cantered framework that sets an example for interaction in the process of building the country and preparing it to lead in developmental and cultural terms. At the same time, the country has earned respect of the regional and international organisations for the fair and excellent treatment to the residents and for providing necessary incentives to them to take part in the development process in the UAE.

This overall look however should not turn our eyes from the need to preserve our national identity. Based on this, a decision was made to form a higher committee to deal with the imbalance in the demographic structure. We highly value the work of this committee which could develop a number of initiatives to deal with the issue.

We are about to take more decisions within our transparent approach of addressing the problem in a civilised way and without compromising our humanitarian and international commitment and in a way that will achieve our goals for a diverse structure.

Q 15: The world is currently embroiled in a financial crisis which has taken toll on international economies. How the UAE is dealing with the crisis?

A 15: The current financial turmoil could be termed as the 'mother of all crises'. Its implications and ramifications are already felt in the different parts of the world. Today, no one is immune from that crisis impacts. The UAE is no exception; especially that it is open to global economies. However, the UAE possesses a strong and solid-based economic and financial resources that could enable it absorb any negative effects.

Through the government and the central bank, we sought to provide quick solutions to the crisis by setting aside AED 120 billion for the Finance Ministry and the Central Bank to pump liquidity into the financial sector and to formulate laws aimed at boosting regulatory role and transparency in the national corporations.

Q 16: How do you view the future of the UAE economy? Would the slump in oil prices have any effect on the country's oil and gas plans and strategies?

A 16: As I mentioned before, the UAE is part of global economy and is open to all its sectors. Naturally, we are among the nations affected by the global recession. The oil producing and exporting countries are already suffering the consequences of that crisis in the in the declining oil prices. We in the UAE have joined the consensus among producing countries to cut production in line with the decisions of OPEC, aimed at maintaining a balance between supply and demand. But we need to realise that this crisis is temporary and that the producing countries must prepare for a time when the demand will rise in the future. Therefore, we in the UAE are pressing ahead with the plans to upgrade our oil industry and to increase capacity for production of crude, gas and petrochemicals in conjunction with our project finance capabilities.

Q 18: As the current global financial crisis began to rear its head, the international community began concerted efforts to curb its repercussions on the economies of developed and developing nations alike. One of the conceived solutions was to put more money to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). What is the UAE view in this regard?

A 18: We are closely following up the international efforts to resolve the financial crisis. We can see that the international community has already started serious steps to minimise its effects on global economy. We do believe in the need to consolidate efforts, with all parties shouldering their responsibilities, each within its capabilities. In other word; the burden of confronting the crisis should not fall only on the parties that suffered the most. Otherwise, there will be more poverty and hunger in many of the third world countries.

The world's powers should move to provide more assistance to poor countries to help in their growth, to boost production and to put more funds in real economies.

We, in the UAE, see that by providing aid to the developing countries to carry out projects in the services and social sectors, we contribute significantly to the efforts made by these countries to face the financial crisis. We think that there is a pressing need for an international cooperation, through a more transparent global economic system.

Q 19 - Many observers see the international financial crunch has availed plenty of investment opportunities in some countries. Will the UAE move to acquire some troubled international companies?

A- Talks about investment opportunities following the world financial crisis might be possible and justifiable but our investment policies are based on economic feasibility studies and distribution of our investment according to location and sectors. However, the focus is on domestic investment within the framework of comprehensive development being witnessed by the country.

Therefore, we are exploring feasible investment opportunities abroad and striving, at the same time, to attract foreign investment into our country. We have also established the UAE as an attractive hub for foreign investment with high rates thanks to the security and stability our country is boasting of and to the wide basket of legislations and laws that regulate the foreign investment and provide them with necessary guarantees in addition to the fertile ground for investment in the UAE and the free zones alike.

Q 20 - It is now four years since you have assumed power in the UAE. How do you evaluate your experiment in the rule?

A- First, I had the pleasure to shoulder the responsibility as successor to the founding father of the UAE, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

We have launched the era of empowerment with the assistance, that we are proud of, from our brethrens, Their Highnesses Supreme Council Members and Rulers of the Emirates and with the support from our people. Thank God, we have laid down ambitious strategies both the federal and local government are jointly toiling to implement them with competence, fervor and seriousness and close follow up in harmony between the government and the Federal National Council.

We hope that we would reach the goal set out by these strategies so as to secure decent livelihood to our dear people and raise the stature of our country regionally and internationally. – Emirates News Agency, WAM

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