Gargash urges engagement with Iraq

The minister of state for foreign affairs outlines the UAE's foreign policy in a speech before NATO parliamentarians.

Dr Anwar Gargash, the state minister for foreign affairs, and Portugal's Jose Lello, the president of the Nato parliamentary assembly meeting in Abu Dhabi today.
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Abu Dhabi // The UAE is pursuing a policy of engagement with its neighbours that is focused on fostering stability, tolerance and development in the region, Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, said today. In a broad policy outline, Dr Gargash described the UAE's role and perspective to delegates from the Nato Parliamentary Assembly and representatives of Arab nations. Dr Gargash's comments came amid a reduction of violence in Iraq and Arab nations begin to embrace the country's government. This week, the Arab League sent its first ambassador to the country, three months after the UAE became the first Arab nation to post an ambassador there since 2005. His comments also follow a visit to Iraq on Tuesday by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. "This visit comes as part of a very conscious policy ? to engage Iraq," said Dr Gargash. "Our policy is strengthening Iraq, which brings balance to the area? to ensure that Iraq is stable." He urged other Arab nations to arrange top-level diplomatic visits to Iraq, appoint ambassadors, and write off the country's huge debts. When Nouri al Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, visited Abu Dhabi in July, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, instructed a waiver of Iraq's US$7 billion (Dh25.7bn) debt. Mr Maliki's visit also saw the appointment of a new ambassador to Iraq, making the UAE the first Arab nation to have done so and boosting its diplomatic presence in Baghdad that has been minimal for a number of years. A policy of diplomatic engagement is a vital component of ensuring Iraqi stability, Dr Gargash said, because it added legitimacy to the young government and helped break the country's diplomatic isolation. "We of course want to see an Iraq where all Iraqis are equal," he said. "By opening more Arab channels to Iraq, others will be more conscious of the [legitimacy of the] Iraqi government and will realise that Iraq can actually be an umbrella for Sunnis, Shias, Kurds and Christians." The members of Nato's Parliamentary Assembly are meeting Middle Eastern and North African officials and academics in Abu Dhabi this week to discuss regional issues, including Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The two-day meeting, which includes members of the Federal National Council (FNC), seeks to expand relations between Nato and the nations of the Arabian Gulf. The Nato Parliamentary Assembly is a separate body which provides a forum for member states to discuss Nato policies. "Mainly, we are concerned about stability in the region that has been undermined because of the Iran crisis, the Iraqi situation, Israel and Palestine and Lebanon," said José Lello, the president of the Nato Parliamentary Assembly, who spoke on the sidelines of the main meeting. He described the parliament as a "laboratory" for Nato's expanding global functions. "We go beyond, we are looking to foresee what could be beyond the horizon and trying to understand what are they really thinking in the region, for example, about what's going on in Iran, trying to identify what could be the future developments." Dr Gargash's comments touched on the nation's role in Afghanistan, where the UAE has had a peacekeeping presence since 2003. While the security situation has been unstable since a US-led coalition invaded the country in late 2001, the number of Afghan civilians and coalition soldiers killed has increased in recent months. Furthermore, tensions have escalated with its southern neighbour, Pakistan, where political divisions have led to mounting instability. "Stability in Afghanistan is extremely important. What's really critical is good governance in Afghanistan. It has to go hand in hand with fighting insurgency," he said. "This is not a luxury for us. We have a lot of humanitarian programmes." Amicable relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan were crucial to fostering peace in Afghanistan, Dr Gargash said, and the Government was taking an active role in improving understanding between the two nations. "It is extremely important that that relationship becomes more transparent in order to combat terrorism," he said. Political developments in Pakistan had been "disturbing", but he added that the UAE had been involved in the "Friends of Pakistan" forum, created in New York, to aid the fight against militancy in its tribal regions. The forum's second session will be hosted by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the UAE's Minister of Foreign Affairs, who said in New York that his country wished to "show our commitment to Pakistan". Dr Gargash also touched on the country's various disputes with Iran, with which the UAE shares a "mature" relationship. He reiterated the UAE's commitment to resolving the dispute over three islands in the Arabian Gulf through direct negotiations or international legal channels. He said the Government was concerned over Iran's nuclear programme and its "interference in internal affairs" of other countries. Dr Gargash said the UAE supported Iran's right to peaceful nuclear energy. However, he said the Government had told Tehran to ensure transparency and compliance with international law. "We really do need that assurance. Otherwise, we will see a region, flush with cash, that is ready to go into a certain regional arms race or regional nuclear programme race. "I don't think this is good for the region. We need more clarity, we need to understand this programme, we need assurance. The region cannot stand further aggravation. This region has gone through a lot." Dr Gargash said the UAE's own nuclear energy programme would be a "model for openness and transparency". The Government published in April a policy document evaluating the potential development of a peaceful nuclear energy programme. The document stressed the UAE's commitment to "operational transparency" and pursuit of "highest standards of non-proliferation". Abdul Aziz al Ghurair, the FNC speaker, said on the sidelines of today's meetings that the spread of nuclear arms in the region, including to Israel, was "not acceptable". "The international decision should be applied to all countries without double standards," he said. mhabboush@thenational.ae mbradley@thenational.ae