UAE ambassador to US wins distinguished award by World Affairs Council

Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba was unanimously voted the winner of the the Distinguished Diplomatic Service Award by the World Affairs Council in Washington, beating at least six other diplomatic missions that were nominated.

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WASHINGTON // The UAE ambassador to the United States praised the deep ties binding the two countries after he was honoured by a major American international affairs organisation for the embassy's work to strengthen relations over the past year.

Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba was given the Distinguished Diplomatic Service Award on behalf of the UAE diplomatic corp at the World Affairs Council-Washington, DC's fifth annual gala. The event was attended by about 1,000 people, including diplomats, US politicians, representatives from the White House and business leaders.

"When I came to Washington as ambassador five years ago, my country was not well understood," Mr Al Otaiba said after receiving the award. "So my team and I have worked very hard to build new relationships ... here in DC and around the US, travelling throughout the country to share the story of the deep ties that bind our two countries."

As part of these efforts, Emirati diplomats have visited about 20 World Affairs Councils across the US to engage with "hundreds of educators, business and community leaders", Mr Al Otaiba added.

"These connections underscore the depth and breadth of the UAE's relationship with the US, the foundation of which was historically anchored in security and military cooperation," Mr Al Otaiba said. "But this relationship has expanded … to include robust economic, social and cultural components as well."

The ambassador was unanimously voted the winner by the World Affairs Council board of directors, and was chosen from at least six other diplomatic missions that had been nominated, said board member Tony Culley-Foster.

A significant consideration in the council's decision to honour Mr Al Otaiba and the rest of the UAE's diplomatic corp, said Scott Erich, a spokesman, was the educational and humanitarian aid the country has donated to communities affected by two major natural disasters: the tornado that struck Joplin, Missouri in May 2011 and last year's Hurricane Sandy.

The mile-wide Joplin tornado destroyed many of the town's buildings and much of its infrastructure, including its only high school and hospital, killing 161 people and causing nearly US$3billion (Dh11bn) in damages. In response, the UAE Embassy purchased laptops for all of the high school's 2,200 students and also spent $5million on a new neonatal intensive-care unit for Joplin's Mercy Hospital.

Mr Al Otaiba has also promised the governors of New York and New Jersey states $5m each to help rebuild after Hurricane Sandy, the Washington Post reported last month.

The diplomatic service recognition was previously given to the ambassadors of France, Britain, Canada and Mexico.

The World Affairs Council is a non-partisan, non-profit organisation with chapters across the US that seeks to promote "the urgent need for global education and international affairs to be a more important aspect of the ... curriculum in the United States", according to its website.

The gala's keynote speaker was General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the country's most powerful military officer.

The event was funded by a number of educational and corporate sponsors, including George Washington University, National Bank of Abu Dhabi and Raytheon Group.