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We look forward to make the Arab Summit a turning point in joint Arab action: UAE President

posted on 28/03/2007: 572 views

President H.H. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan has said that he looks forward to proactive participation in the Arab Summit in Riyadh and expressed the hope that the summit, would succeed in uniting Arabs, resolving any existing differences and clearing the atmosphere for successful tackling of the many challenges facing the Arab nation.

Sheikh Khalifa made the statement in an exclusive interview with the London-based Arabic daily, Al Hayat. He urged the summit, which opens today in the Saudi capital, to maintain a solid stance on the issue of the right of return of the Palestinian refugees as contained in the Arab Peace Initiative. He said the summit must not make any concession on that issue no matter the strong international pressure.

The UAE President expressed deep concern about the many attempts to sow the seed of discord and sectarian sentiment among Muslims. He said those attempts arouse the deep concern of UAE as well as those of the other Gulf, Arab and Islamic states.

He said the UAE fully supports all political and religious efforts to contain the sectarian violence in Iraq, including the Saudi-Iran dialogue, the convening of regional conference on reconciliation in Iraq, the resolving of the Lebanese Crisis and the encouragement of dialogue and rapprochement among Sunni and Shiite scholars.

Sheikh Khalifa reiterated that the UAE totally rejects the use of its land, air and territorial waters to attack any country. "We have reiterated to our Iranian brothers, in a letter delivered recently by the foreign minister that we are not a party to the conflict between Iran and the United States and that we shall never allow the use of our soil for any military, security or intelligence activities against them," he said.

The UAE President pointed out that his country's method to regain control of its three islands of Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa "is not subject to any regional or international political agenda. We shall never strengthen our position with any foreign stance to solve the issue of the occupied islands."

He said the Arab Quartet Committee (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Jordan) was just a contact group tasked by the Arab League to sit with parties that wield great influence on the Palestinian issue, adding that the committee is part of Arab diplomacy aimed at giving a push to international efforts to revive the peace process, settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and see to the establishment of a Palestinian State.

Replying to a question on the security aspect of the Arab Quartet Committee, Sheikh Khalifa said "security coordination among the countries is not new, particularly in view of the current situation when security threat is worldwide, widespread and a cross-border phenomenon..." Not withstanding the problems of the Middle East which are generally security related.

He drew attention to the existing coordination among the international quartet and its Arab counterpart and said: "We hope that the existing coordination between the two sides would explain the Arab stance, particularly on the issue of rejection of normalization of ties with Israel until after a comprehensive peace was achieved and the total Israeli pull-out from all occupied Palestinian territories, the Golan Height and Lebanon."

Sheikh Khalifa expressed the hope that the ongoing contact between the international and Arab committees would push the international parties to respect the choice of the Palestinians by "recognizing the government of national unity and enabling it to discharge its duties." He said the UAE's stance towards the government of national unity totally agrees with the Arab stance.

"We have urged influential countries to shoulder their responsibilities by forcing Israel to respect the resolutions of the international legitimacy," he said.

He drew attention to other special Arab committees dealing with issues like Iraq, Lebanon and Somalia. "If necessary there would be a special committee for the Iranian issue," he said, adding that such committees boost the role of the Arab League in finding solutions to issues and challenges facing the Arab nation.

"The role of the Arab League has become more significant in recent time due to the increasing challenges and internal and external dangers facing the Arab nation, its countries and peoples," he explained.

On the UAE's stance on Iran's nuclear programme, Sheikh Khalifa said it is based on a permanent stance that the Middle East region must be free from all weapons of mass destruction.

"We have informed the Iranian leadership about this stance and we got from them assurances that the programme is for peaceful purposes," he said. "But the Iranian assurances need to be supported with guarantees that the nuclear programme is in conformity with the standards of the International Atomic Energy Agency not just for the peaceful nature of it but also to meet the technical standards that guarantee the safety of the installations and that it will not lead to any mistake that may harm the regional environment," he added and urged Iran to deal with the demands of the international community with flexibility and respect and to implement Resolution 1737 to save the region from more tension.

He also called on the United States and the West not to abandon diplomatic solution and not to resort to military option.

On the resolution passed during the last Gulf Summit regarding conducting studies on a peaceful nuclear programme, Sheikh Khalifa said the project has neither political objective nor military aims, adding that it is also not against any country nor is it a reaction to any other programme in the region.

Sheikh Khalifa re-affirmed the UAE's support for the Lebanese government all what the Lebanese people agree upon on the government crisis and the International Court of Justice.

"We are in support of Saudi Arabia's efforts to resolve this crisis," he said.

On the situation in Iraq, Sheikh Khalifa expressed deep concern on what is going on in that sister country. He said: "We continue to work to let the various Iraqi political forces to put first their country's supreme national interest before their individual parochial interest." He commended the efforts being made by the Iraqi government to implement the security plan and called for a comprehensive national dialogue, the dismantling and disarming of all militias, the building of a strong non-sectarian army and security forces that would work to protect the unity and integrity of Iraq and provide security for the Iraqi people.

"No one demands the quick withdrawal of the American forces from Iraq," he said, adding that everybody supports a scheduled withdrawal that would go hand-in-hand with the expediting of national political reconciliation and the building of Iraqi military and security forces. He reiterated the UAE's preparedness to provide all the necessary support to ensure the success of this programme.

The UAE President commended the stance of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). He said the GCC's stance was identical to those of the Arabs in the various developments the region is witnessing.

On the UAE's policy, Sheikh Khalifa said the UAE takes a stance and adopts policy according to its own choice, its national interest and Arab national tenets. "Our political dispensation "was not imposed on us nor was it cloned. It is a national policy dictated to us by our national demands and convenience." On the participation of Emarati women in the last elections, Sheikh Khalifa said it came to complete their role in public life as a result of the successes women achieved in all areas, adding that it was also a sign of success of the UAE's parliamentary work. He said the UAE had now by-passed the era of gender discrimination, adding that the criteria now are competence, capability and excellence.

Regarding some negative reports on labour rights in the UAE, Sheikh Khalifa said those reports, in most cases, were not logic and were arbitrary to the UAE. "It is unfortunate that those arbitrary reports do not say anything about the numerous measures we have taken in favour of workers. They fail to tell the world that these workers remit to their respective home countries about 8% to 9.5% of the UAE's gross domestic product," he explained.

Sheikh Khalifa said the UAE is now at the threshold of a new era dubbed "the era of empowerment" to distinguish it from the past era of foundation building. He said the most significant aspect of the new era was to put in place all the necessary requirements for creativity to enable UAE nationals have at their disposal all the knowledge and power tools to make them more attached to and get them more involved in national issues.

"Our hope for our country has no limit. Our aspirations for our people are without boundary and our expectations for the future are becoming a reality every passing day as we approach a new era that reflects an ambitious national vision for an era that continues to take shape gradually to further strengthen our good governance that is based on "Shura" and the rule of law, a good governance that is also based on the policy of identifying responsibilities, empowerment, accountability and positive participation in the making of a bright future," the UAE President concluded.

Following is the full transcript of the interview.

Q- The first question has to do with the democratic experience which took a new shape in the UAE with the partial and transitional elections to the Federal National Council (FNC). The significance of these elections is well-known. The question now is was this step a result of a political development? Was it a necessity at this time or was it just an imitation of and compliance with international current trends?

A - We in the UAE take our decisions, build our policy and adopt our options according to our national interests and the ambitions of our people. Since we don't live on an isolated island, it is normal that we should often our ambitions, aspirations and projects in harmony with the regional and international changes.

Our country is an active participant in both the regional and the international arenas. It is a two-way reaction. However, the form that we agreed on to develop our develop our political experience is neither imposed on us nor is it cloned. Rather, it is a purely national trend, dictated by necessities and national demands, the requirements of modern times, and the deep transition through which the UAE is passing. Definitely, this step is not isolated or separated from the overall development that our country, as well as the whole region, is undergoing in all areas. We are confident that this experience will drive the national movement toward more national action in service of our country, people and nation.

Q - In the recent years, UAE women's role in public life has been highly visible. The government was quick to give a big boost to women's participation in the cabinet and then in the FNC. How wide the door will stay open for women to play a political role in the UAE?

A - The visibility and emergence of women in the UAE public life has been based on national development options. We have achieved our ambitions regarding the empowerment of women. In civil life, no discrimination whatsoever is exercised against women. All UAE women enjoy their full rights and shoulder all their responsibilities.

Their participation in the recent FNC elections - as candidates and as voters - has been complementary to their role in public life. The success they have achieved so far in all areas is an indication of their ability to achieve success in the parliamentary arena and to explain, in a better way, women's issues, and those of family welfare and children's welfare, along with their role in administration and planning for the country. They do, after all, make up half of its population. We are fully confident that women are half of society. Other societies which have been unable to employ this half are insufficient and failing societies.

What has been available to women here is neither gift-giving nor largesse. Rather, it is the nature of things. Before assuming the roles of ministers or representatives, UAE women have been, and still are, mothers, house-wives, workers, investors, physicians, teachers, poetesses, women of letters and social activists. In the UAE, we have gone beyond discrimination between women and men and the standards are efficiency, capability and excellence. We take pride in what we have achieved.

Q -The accelerating economic activity in the UAE and the expatriate labour force which fits into this have recently resulted in problems which have become apparent and have led to criticism of the UAE society. Some have tried to give it a political shape. How do you see this issue and in what way do you address it?

A - The overall development that our country is enjoying is not taking place haphazardly. Nor does it overlook demographic, social and security considerations. We admit the demographic imbalance we have, as do all other Gulf countries, and our need to achieve our economic ambitions and expansion in industry, tourism and urban development. That meant we had to inevitably use expatriate labour. However we believe that it is not impossible to control the situation and we are currently making efforts to adjust the imbalance to safe levels and therefore properly handle it in a way that preserves the security of our country and the identity of our citizens.

Most of the recently published reports on the rights of expatriate labour in the UAE fall short in their reasoning reason and include a great deal of unfairness and arbitrariness. They intentionally (in our view) ignore the UAE's efforts to protect the rights of expatriate workers and to provide them with the means to lead a proper life.

Based on our belief in the significance of expatriate workers as well as in the fact that we do need them, we have been keen to make laws and rules to regulate their entry, residence and work to make sure their rights are protected according to national laws and international treaties. In addition, we have developed a health insurance system to include all groups of expatriate workers and set up a court to take care of their complaints and grievances.

We also introduced adequate procedures to provide health and safety standards for them in their accommodation as well as in their work places. The Ministry of Labour has created an investigation body that is charged with making sure those standards are met.

It is regrettable that those unfair reports don't make any mention of those aspects and completely ignore that these expatriate workers remit to their countries annually sums that amount to 8 to 9.5% of the UAE GDP.

Q - A recent notable development has been the setting up of has been known as the Arab Quartet with the UAE joining Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. Can we consider that Committee to be an Arab bloc that has a political identity and has the capability to form a distinct axis in Arab politics and in handling the Palestinian issue, in particular?

A - It is not more than a contact group that is commissioned by Arab parties to sit with representatives of the international parties with influence, namely the US and the international Quartet, in order to convey and explain the Arab viewpoint. It is part of the Arab diplomatic action which aims to persuade the international players to support efforts to revive the peace process, to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to create a Palestinian state, along with supporting the current Palestinian Authority and obtaining recognition of the National Unity Government which has been formed according to Mecca Agreement. Before that, though, it will be necessary to push the Israelis to make positive steps on the Arab Peace Initiative.

Q - This quartet made its debut through the recent meeting that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held in Egypt with intelligence chiefs of the four Arab countries. Has the security aspect been a key factor to the emergence of this Quartet?

A -Security coordination is not something new, particularly in the light of the current international and regional situation where security threats have gone global and cross-border in terms of their trends and the spreading of them. To achieve the minimum level of global security and stability, there must be coordination and cooperation, exchange of information and joint analysis of data and this is to be in line with the interests of all parties.

This process doesn't imply anything shameful or degrading with regards to the sovereignty or independence of those four states.

We also should not ignore the fact that the problems from which the Middle East is suffering are all security-related or have an impact on security within the borders of those states or in their neighbouring countries.

Q - Will here be any coordination between the Arab Quartet and the International Quartet? And will the Arab Quartet be independent in handling the Palestinian issue?

A -This coordination is there and on-going between the two Quartets. Some of the parties to the Arab Quartet have participated in the meetings of the International Quartet and the Arab Quartet has conveyed to the international parties Arab viewpoints and proposals. We, as Arabs, don't want the International Quartet to be the only party that is concerned with formulating the agenda of the peace process.

We hope the current coordination between the two Quartets would contribute to explaining the position of Arabs and to achieving tangible results that could affect the stated positions of the International Quartet and develop its attitude, in particular to the fact that no comprehensive normalisation of relations with Israel can take place before the achieving of a comprehensive and just peace and the complete Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the Golan Heights and Southern Lebanon (i.e. on the basis of land-for-peace), returning to negotiations on the basis of the two--state solution (Israel and Palestine) and recognising the right of return for Palestinian refugees, based on United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution 194.

Q - A clear difference has become apparent between the Arab Quartet and the International Quartet in their attitudes towards dealing with Hamas and the National Unity Government formed pursuant to the Mecca Agreement. What is the UAE position on this and how will the UAE deal with this government?

A - Differences are something natural. We hope that the current contacts between the Arab Quartet and the International Quartet would move the international parties towards respecting the Palestinian choices, recognising the Palestinian National Unity Government, enabling it to play its role and lifting the economic and humanitarian siege laid to the Palestinian people.

We hope the International Quartet will benefit from past lessons.

As for the position of the UAE, it is completely in line with the Arab position. We called upon the parties with influence to shoulder their political and ethical responsibilities and to force Israel to respect the UN resolutions and to stop torturing the Palestinian people and institutions.

Q: The UAE maintains a firm and explicit stand on the issue relating to its occupied islands, but the issue remains. Is it possible that international powers may use this issue as a pretext to attack Iran, consequently igniting a regional war?

A - The approach we have been adopting to regain our three occupied islands of Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa has no political agenda, whether regionally or internationally. It is based on a legal, righteous and patriotic stand and it was there long before emergence of the Iranian nuclear crisis. The means proposed by the UAE to resolve the dispute are still the same. They are based on referral to the International Court, law, legitimacy and fraternal dialogue. We are not going to rely on any external powers to deal with the issue of our occupied islands. We still hope that the issue will be resolved via bilateral talks or by referring to the International Court of Justice. We also hope that the leadership in the Islamic Republic will accept the idea of ending occupation of the islands in a way that will help restore the historic and brotherly ties between the two Muslim neighbours.

Q - Is it possible that the UAE land and airspace could be used to launch strikes against Iran or that the country would offer military or logistical facilities for such strikes?

A: The UAE is an independent and sovereign state. It refuses to use its territorial lands, air or waters for aggression against any other country, let alone a neighbouring Muslim country with which we maintain historic and economic ties. We have assured the brothers in Iran, in a letter conveyed recently by the Foreign Minister, that we are not a party in its dispute with the United States, that we will not allow any force to use our territories for military, security and espionage activities against Iran and that we are neither interested in nor responsible for any threats to the Islamic Republic (of Iran) arising from its stand-off with the international community about its nuclear programme.

Q - There are growing fears that a Sunni-Shia conflict is spreading in Iraq and Lebanon. Such conflict may spill over to the whole region. To what extent is this fear justified and how are you going to deal with it?

A - There is no doubt that sectarian disputes in the Arab and Islamic world are worrisome for the UAE, the GCC, Arab and Islamic countries, most of which have diverse groups that co-existed peacefully for more than 14 centuries. We in the UAE support all political and religious efforts aimed at containing sectarian tension, including the Saudi-Iranian dialogue, the regional conference on Iraqi reconciliation, the settlement of the Lebanese crisis and encouraging of dialogue among religious scholars and intellectuals.

The UAE offers a living example of religious tolerance.

Q: What about UAE views on the situation in Lebanon, especially in view of the fact that the UAE has contacts with the different parties there and is playing a vital role in offering aid to Lebanon?

A - Based on our principles, we reject interference in other countries' internal affairs. Nevertheless, we support the (Lebanese) government and stand by any solution agreed by the Lebanese people to the crisis and on the international court probing the assassination of the martyr Rafiq Al Hariri. We also back the Saudi efforts to settle the crisis. We are confident that the Lebanese people are capable of passing through this crisis and foiling any external attempts to sow political chaos and sectarian discord. We appreciate the Saudi and Iranian efforts and affirm our readiness to take part in any efforts aimed at to defuse the crisis and to avert turning Lebanon into an arena for international conflicts.

Q - The same question almost applies to Iraq. What role the UAE could play in the Iraqi situation?

A - We are deeply concerned by the situation in Iraq, and we have conveyed our feelings to all the parties that are involved directly or indirectly on what is happening there. Our worries stem from the political and security ramifications of this troubled situation on the unity of Iraq's people and land, rather than from its consequences for regional security.

We work very hard to push all Iraqi political parties to give priority to wide national interests over narrow factional ones, so that they can protect their country's unity and revive its role at regional and global levels.

We approve of the Iraqi government's endeavours to implement the security plan. We call on this government to adopt a comprehensive national dialogue, to work seriously towards dissolving and disarming militias, and to build armed and security forces that are far from sectarianism and are committed to applying law, maintaining Iraq's unity, protecting its borders and maintaining its security.

Q -The US Congress is asking the Bush Administration for a scheduled withdrawal from Iraq. Are you concerned by (the prospect of) an immediate American withdrawal from Iraq? How would such a decision impact the situation in Iraq and in the whole region in the light of all the political and military developments there?

A - No one is asking for an immediate or quick pullout of the US forces. The US Congress, Iraq, the neighbouring countries, Arab states and the West are all calling for a scheduled withdrawal that coincides with an accelerating national reconciliation process and the building of armed and security forces that are far from sectarianism and are capable of maintaining Iraq's security.

Those who call for an immediate pullout of the coalition forces are those who just wish to see Iraq divided, unstable and in a constant state of chaos. To prevent the dangers of a quick withdrawal of the international forces, we call on all the Iraqi factions, the US, Britain and Iraq's neighbouring states to do their best to solve the crises and not to use Iraq as an arena for settling regional and international disputes. The suffering of three decades of wars, siege, terrorism and displacement is enough for the people of Iraq. . We, in the UAE, are ready to offer any help required in this direction.

Q - Do you think that the Arab summit in Riyadh will be able to deal with all the issues it is confronting? Will holding the summit in Riyadh help to give it the special quality and the ability to deal with all the issues that may be raised?

A - We are looking forward to participating in the summit that will be hosted by Saudi Arabia, the land of peace and Islam, and under the patronage of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz. We hope this will help the Arabs to unify, to reject differences and to defy the wide spectrum of dangers and challenges confronting the Muslim umma through a mutual action plan to defend our issues and the interests of our states and peoples. Today we are in a more urgent need for solidarity than ever before.

Saudi Arabia was able to achieve reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas (in Palestine) by helping the two movements to sign the Mecca Accord, which led to the establishment of the National Unity Government. The Kingdom is also making all efforts to settle the Lebanese crisis, in addition to the role it plays in solving Iraq's problem and Iran's nuclear issue.

All this bodes well for the Saudi efforts. We hope that the other Arab states will support the Kingdom's endeavours to find solutions to the difficult Arab issues.

The current Arab situation dictates that all of us work sincerely to achieve harmony, to form a common viewpoint, to agree on the steps to be taken and to define the framework to deal with all the problems transparently and objectively.

We are certain the summit will reach positive decisions and recommendations, provided that there is the will, realism and sincere intentions.

It goes without saying that Israel, since it was founded on the Land of Palestine in 1948, has set itself a strategy whereby it rejects the return of the Palestinian refugees (to their homes). It has never budged on this point and for that it receives the support of some Western countries. In so doing, Israel ignores international resolutions, particularly Resolution No. 194, which provides for the right of return and compensation for the refugees. We are therefore hopeful that the Arab summit will take a firm stance with regard to the issue of the right of return, and that it should not back away from it because of international pressure.

Q -How will the UAE look like in the future now that the foundations of the state have been laid and its political, economic and social features shaped during the era of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan?

A - Thank God, we have not started from scratch. We shall continue to build on a generous legacy left by late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan from which we derive our determination to keep serving our country and people. The great achievements so far made lay an extra load on us. However, besides safeguarding these accomplishments, we are required to sustain the development of the federation and fortify it so that it can continuously adapt itself to regional and international changes.

Today, we are on the threshold of a new era, dubbed as "the stage of empowerment" as distinct from the previous "formation" one.

The salient objectives of the new era are to strive to create an innovation-friendly environment, to enable our citizens to acquire knowledge and gain strength, thus contributing more (to their country's development). One of the tools to achieve this goal was the invigoration of the Federal National Council's (FNC's) role by electing half of its membership, thus broadening its base of representation so as to make it more capable and clearly effective in addressing national issues and people's concerns.

It is through the FNC that the Shura (consultation) approach takes root, profound transformations are enhanced and the pursued aspirations for renaissance gain momentum. To reach this end, all our societal systems are being subjected to an exhaustive review in terms of their philosophy, objectives, norms and instruments.

In all that, it is our conviction that all members of the community, including its religious, cultural, educational, information, voluntary and other institutions, have a role to play. Reactivating and developing such a role is a national duty, which is the responsibility of the government to create an innovation-friendly environment as mentioned above.

Our wishes for our country and our people know no limit, and we are more confident in the future as we are on the threshold of a new era. (Emirates News Agency, WAM)


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