ABU DHABI // Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, expressed “astonishment” yesterday at accusations made by the US vice president Joseph Biden that the UAE helped arm Syrian extremists.
Mr Biden, speaking at the John F Kennedy Jr Forum at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, blamed the US’s Sunni allies for funding and arming extremists in Syria. He specifically named Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
“Our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria,” he said, claiming that Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the UAE were “so determined to take down Assad,” that in a sense they started a “proxy Sunni-Shia war” by pouring “hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of weapons” towards anyone who would fight against Assad.
“And we could not convince our colleagues to stop supplying them,” said Mr Biden. “Except that the people who were being supplied were Al Nusra and Al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.”
But Dr Gargash hit back yesterday, saying that these statements “are far from the truth, especially with relation to the UAE’s role in confronting extremism and terrorism and its clear and advanced position in recognising the dangers, including the danger of financing terrorism and terrorist groups”.
Dr Gargash said that Mr Biden had “ignored the steps and effective measures” taken by the UAE and its clearly announced position in the past about financing terrorism, “which comes as part of a more comprehensive political stand against this plague”, the state news agency, Wam, reported.
The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain and Qatar all took part in US-led airstrikes at the end of last month, with the UAE Air Force launching its first strikes against ISIL targets on September 22.
On Saturday, Mr Biden’s office said that “the vice president apologised for any implication that Turkey or other allies and partners in the region had intentionally supplied or facilitated the growth of ISIL or other violent extremists in Syria”.
However, Dr Gargash called for a clarification of Mr Biden’s statement.
He said it gave a negative and inaccurate impression of the UAE and its track record in fighting terror – particularly at a time when the country is supporting efforts aimed at confronting ISIL.
“The UAE’s counter-terrorism approach reflects a pioneering national commitment that recognises the extent of the danger posed by terrorism to the region and to its people,” Dr Gargash said.
* Additional reporting by AFP