NEW YORK // Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs, has backed renewed efforts by the United States to broker peace in the Middle East and strive for the creation of a free Palestinian state within a year. In his address to the UN General Assembly, Sheikh Abdullah touched upon global concerns including security in Yemen, Somali pirates, Afghan reconciliation and Iran's controversial nuclear programme.
Sheikh Abdullah endorsed comments from the US president, Barack Obama, who last week urged world leaders to overcome cynicism and work towards a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians within the next 12 months. "We hope that the independent Palestinian State, with its capital Al Quds Al Sharif, emerges next year," the UAE minister said. Sheikh Abdullah said the UAE welcomed Mr Obama's statement, and "the strong commitment towards the achievement of peace in the Middle East".
He added: "We also welcome his emphasis on the importance of direct negotiations to lead to final results within one year, and seeing Palestine take its seat among member states in the next session of the General Assembly." Just weeks after the Obama administration re-launched direct talks between Israeli and Palestinian officials on September 2, a familiar row over settlement construction in the West Bank threatens to derail negotiations.
The continuation of Israeli settlement construction, said Sheikh Abdullah, "clashes with the pursuit of peace". "Either choose to pursue peace or insist on continuing the settlements," he said. Sheikh Abdullah addressed other global challenges, including the security of Yemen, which faces not only water shortages and dwindling oil reserves, but threats from northern Shiite rebels, secessionists in the south and al Qa'eda militants.
"In this context, we call upon the international community to stand by the government of Yemen and extend to it the necessary assistance and support, in order to enhance its capacity to fulfil the requirements of fighting terrorism, restoring security and achieving stability and development," he said. Sheikh Abdullah said the UAE "condemns and deplores" acts of piracy committed off Somalia's coast and revealed plans for a meeting on the seaborne menace in the Emirates in March next year designed "to examine the strategies of combating piracy and maritime crimes".
On Afghanistan, the Emirati minister called for a "national reconciliation process" to help extend the government's control over all Afghan territory by the end of 2014. A meeting in Dubai next month will develop partnerships "between private and public sectors to invest and execute development projects" in the turbulent nation. Sheikh Abdullah called on Iran to allay fears about its uranium enrichment programme, which the US and other countries claim is for building nuclear weapons, an allegation Tehran denies. He also urged Tehran to return three Gulf islands - the Greater and Lesser Tunbs and Abu Musa - which Iran has occupied since 1971.
"We call upon the international community to urge Iran to respond to the peaceful and sincere initiatives of the UAE, which call for a just settlement of this issue, either through direct and serious negotiations between the two countries or by referring the issue to the International Court of Justice," he said. Sheikh Abdullah spoke on Tuesday afternoon, between delegates from Indonesia and Chad and towards the end of the week-long General Assembly in Manhattan, an annual meeting of leaders from the UN's 192 member nations.
This year's event, which ended yesterday, followed a three-day summit on progress towards the UN's poverty-reduction targets, the Millennium Development Goals.