The UAE’s political leadership operates within the broad foreign policy framework established by the founding President of the Federation, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. This approach emphasises diplomacy, negotiation and a willingness to help those less fortunate. The UAE is mindful of its commitment to its neighbours and the international community with regard to regional peace, stability and security. To achieve these goals, it has purposefully promoted bridges, partnerships and dialogue, and has emphasised moderation, tolerance and respect for all peoples and religions. Relying on these tools of engagement has allowed the Government to pursue effective, balanced and wide-ranging ties with the international community in its role as a 'good global citizen'.
A guiding principle of UAE foreign policy is a belief in the need for justice in international dealings between states, including the necessity of respecting the principle of non-interference in the sovereign affairs of other nations. The UAE promotes the peaceful resolution of disputes and backs international institutions in order to reinforce the rule of international law and facilitate the implementation of international conventions and treaties.
One of the central features of the UAE’s foreign policy has been the development of closer ties with its neighbours in the Arabian Peninsula through the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The UAE is also a member of the Arab League, the Arab Quartet, the Committee for the Arab Peace Initiative, the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the Organisation of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC), the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and many other regional, international and intergovernmental organisations, as well as, of course, the United Nations (UN) and its affiliated bodies.
Regional security remains a top priority for the UAE, as highlighted by UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan in his address to the 67th session of the UN General Assembly in September 2012:
With respect to the Middle East, the UAE believes that peace and stability cannot be achieved without resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict. This is the central and vital issue to the people of the entire region, and reaching a just solution is the key for bringing peace and stability to the whole region. This cannot be realised without putting an end to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian and Arab territories through Israel's withdrawal to the lines of the 4th of June 1967, including from East Jerusalem, the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, and the remaining occupied Lebanese territories, and through achievement of a just and comprehensive peace in accordance with resolutions of international legitimacy, the principle of land for peace, the Arab Peace Initiative, and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
The UAE is totally committed to Arabian Gulf and Peninsula security. Consequently, it continues to press for the preservation of Gulf waters as an open international trade zone and the Strait of Hormuz as an open maritime passageway. However, Iran's continuing occupation of three UAE islands in the Gulf, Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs, is a source of instability in the region. Although historically governed by the rulers of the emirates of Sharjah and Ra's al-Khaimah, they were forciby occupied by Iran hours before the federation was formed on 2 December 1971. The UAE has consistently rejected the Iranian occupation, demanded the restoration of its full sovereignty and emphasised that 'all actions and measures taken by the occupying Iranian authorities are illegitimate, and are contrary to international law and to universal norms'.
Since 1971, Iran has been unwilling to seek a mutually agreeable solution. The UAE, in contrast, has called for 'a just settlement of this issue, either through direct negotiation or by referral to the International Court of Justice to settle this dispute in accordance with the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and the provisions of international law'.
Further afield, in pursuit of regional security, the UAE participated in the GCC attempt to propose an initiative to resolve the ongoing political crisis in Yemen. In 2011, it played a pivotal role in the lead-up to the passing of UN Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973 dealing with Libya and within the Libya Contact Group and other forums. The UAE played a stabilising role during the Bahrain crisis, providing police forces for a GCC-sanctioned plan to bring peace to the island nation and counselling the government and opposition forces to pursue a national strategy for dialogue.
More recently, the UAE has condemned the conflict in Syria as 'heartbreaking' pointing out that it 'exceeds all limits and humanitarian norms' and noting 'with deep concern' the 'escalating acts of violence perpetrated by the Syrian regime against its people, which have stripped the regime of its legitimacy'.
The UAE has also voiced its support for the recently created National Coalition of the Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as ' a legitimate representative of the Syrian people' and believes that the solution to the crisis will only be achieved through 'an orderly transition of power'.
It further recognises that the people of Syria, particularly refugees, the displaced and the wounded, need continuing support in the severe humanitarian crisis that has arisen and has moved swiftly to provide relief operations in Turkey and Jordan, at the same time urging all States to contribute to these humanitarian efforts.
The deep nexus between UAE foreign policy and humanitarianism is not a recent phenomenon. Since the Israeli–Hezbollah war of 2006, the UAE has sponsored the rebuilding of hospitals and schools in southern Lebanon. In 2001, it joined over 60 countries in Afghanistan in providing 1300 troops on the ground in a humanitarian, educational and security mission that continues today. Prior to this, the UAE participated in a peacekeeping mission in Kosovo in the 1990s. It is also among the largest contributors of international aid assistance to developing countries.
There is a deep awareness in the UAE that nuclear proliferation in the region continues to undermine security. In his 2012 address to the UN General Assembly, Sheikh Abdullah reiterated the UAE's commitment to nuclear non-proliferation and its suppor of all efforts aimed at making the Middle East, including the Gulf region, a zone free of weapons of mass destruction. He demanded 'that Israel join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and subjects its nuclear facilities to the comprehensive safeguards system governed by the Treaty'. He went on to urge 'the Islamic Republic of Iran to fully cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and implement its international commitments, in order to dispel all fears and suspicions surrounding its nuclear program'. 'We look forward', he said 'to a peaceful solution to this crisis that ensures the elimination of tension from our region, guarantees the transparency of Iran's nuclear program, and confirms its peaceful nature'.
Sheikh Abdullah also alluded to the example set by the UAE's own transparent and peaceful nuclear energy programme, which it commenced in 2009 to meet a growing demand for energy. He emphasised that 'the rules and regulations of the UAE programme are based upon the highest standards of safety and security, and upon the principles of non-proliferation'.
As a small ‘emerging regional and global player,’ it is clear that the UAE is dealing with challenges on many fronts and at different levels, largely in cooperation with a diversified group of friends and allies in the GCC, the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the United Nations and its diverse organisations. UAE foreign policy also emphasises the strong relationship and mutual interests the country has with the United States and other countries, including the United Kingdom, France and South Korea and, although not a member of NATO, the UAE has chosen to join the coalition’s Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI).
Terrorism is one such global challenge. In this regard, the UAE continues to renew its firm condemnation of all acts of terrorism, illicit trafficking in drugs and arms, and organised crime and reaffirms its resolve to continue cooperating with international and multilateral efforts aimed at total elimination of these activities, which pose a direct threat to international peace and security. In pursuit of this goal, the UAE has announced the establishment of the 'Centre of Excellence for Countering Violent Extremism' in collaboration with several friends and actors, which will begin its work in Abu Dhabi at the end of 2012.
Over the last five years, the UAE's diplomacy has witnessed a major shift towards relationships with new regions such as South America, Central America, Africa, Central Asia and the Pacific, where a number of embassies and consulates have been opened.
Looking to the future, the UAE leadership is committed to ensuring that its foreign policy will continue to be characterised by prudence, support, conciliation and consensus, as well as cooperation with international institutions. At the same time, it is ready to contribute to the defence of the rights of the weak and vulnerable states.
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