UAE 'will enforce UN sanctions on Iran'

The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs says some business with Islamic Republic is legitimate, and UAE seeks balance between trade and commitment to sanctions.

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ABU DHABI // The UAE will enforce the latest round of UN sanctions against Iran but must pay close attention to the interests of the business community, the country's ambassador to the US said yesterday. Some companies had already been shut down under the previous round of sanctions, Yousef al Otaiba said. "Anything caught violating UN sanctions, we have been very open about and implement the UN sanctions very openly. That is not something that is up for debate," he said.

Iran was the UAE's fourth-biggest trading partner in the first quarter of the year behind India, China and the US. Non-oil exports of Dh173 million from the UAE to Iran were overshadowed by UAE re-exports of Dh2.4 billion. Simply throttling off that trade would hurt UAE businesses, Mr al Otaiba said. "We do a significant amount of trade with Iran. It cannot be all illicit and it can't be all illegal," he said. "What we're trying to do is sift the good from the bad, and make sure nothing that is legitimate gets harmed by the sanctions."

The UAE can do this through intelligence co-operation, better law enforcement and export controls already in place, he added. Anwar Gargash, the minister of state for foreign affairs, said the Government was debating the best approach. "We are part of the global consensus that usually produces the Security Council resolutions and we are discussing these things," he said. "I think that on the one hand we have that commitment.

"On the other hand there are a lot of legitimate transactions taking place, and I think it is extremely important to have that balance right, between our international commitments on the one hand and also that a lot of the transactions that we do have are legitimate to us." The two men were speaking at an annual diplomatic gathering of UAE ambassadors and heads of mission at the Emirates Palace hotel, organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Mr Gargash said a key issue was the discussion of sanctions. In June, the UN Security Council authorised fresh general sanctions against Iran. These were followed by others from the US and the European Union. "There are three sets of sanctions. We're trying to get a better sense of how they relate to each other and how they impact the UAE," said Mr al Otaiba. "We're trying to understand the differences, how they're going to be enforced, who's in charge of enforcement. "These are still questions that we are dealing with, and the US and the EU." The UAE sees sanctions as a route to diplomacy, and Mr al Otaiba reiterated the country's commitment to a peaceful resolution to the current stand-off between Iran and the West. "We support the diplomatic path 100 per cent," Mr al Otaiba said. "Military engagement I think would destabilise an already unstable region. We support President Obama's two-track strategy: sanctions and engagement." There is potential for more talks and a meeting between Iran and the permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany in September, he said. While it is too early to determine the effects of the new sanctions, the idea behind them is "to allow a better push for diplomacy", Mr al Otaiba said. He said there was a stronger consensus among UN member nations for diplomatic action against Iran. "I would say there is more cohesiveness in the international community than before," he said. "You saw that in the Russia and China position in the UN and saw it in the fact that the US sanctions came out weeks after the UN, and the EU sanctions weeks after that." The comments by the high-level UAE officials came a day after Stuart Levey, the undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the US Treasury Department, urged vigilance in dealing with Iranian businesses. He said some might be associated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, a militia that was increasingly in control of Iranian political and economic policy. These companies might be involved in illicit activities such as funding terrorist groups, illegal arms transfers and funding Iran's nuclear programme, he said. kshaheen@thenational.ae

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