His Excellency Dr. Anwar bin Mohammed Gargash, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, this morning addressed the sixth annual Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate, hosted by the Emirates Policy Center.
In his speech, Dr. Gargash reviewed regional developments and expressed optimism regarding the potential for significant progress over the next year, noting, “We have reached critical junctures in major conflicts and challenges across our region.”
On Iran, Dr. Gargash emphasized the necessity of diplomacy and deescalation. He called for policymakers to explore constructive ideas, saying that they are needed now more than ever in order to create a “new, more stable regional order in which all countries will be able to thrive.” He added that any process should include Arab Gulf states to ensure it is long-term and sustainable.
Turning to Yemen, following the UAE’s redeployment from Aden, Dr. Gargash confirmed that the UAE’s priorities within the Coalition will be to continue to provide humanitarian aid, counter terror threats, protect maritime security and support the UN-led political process.
He told the audience the Coalition has managed to defend its strategic priorities in Yemen, and prevent the Iran-backed Houthis and Al-Qaeda from dividing up the country. He commended the Saudi diplomatic success in concluding the Riyadh Agreement. He also stressed the importance of inclusivity to the political process, noting that the Houthis “are a part of Yemeni society and they will have a role in its future.”
Dr. Gargash made the case for a new regional order, underpinned by a renewal of Arab states and values, with a strong moderate core. Referring to the successful example of Sudan’s transition, he said: “We need to be ready to act in unison to resolve conflicts between states, and to encourage countries to resolve any internal conflicts through political dialogue.”
Dr. Gargash emphasized the need for the UAE to continue pursuing national advancement as it deals with various regional crises. He described the UAE’s national success as inspiring other states in the region to concentrate on progressive social and economic priorities. “Progressive evolution,” he told the audience, is vital “not just for our own sake but to give others hope that life really can get better in this region.”
Dr. Gargash addressed the changing nature of the international system and emphasized the necessity of a rules-based global order. In times of change the rules governing the international system are of vital importance in managing priorities and challenges.
FULL TRANSCRIPT OF SPEECH
Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests,
I am delighted to once again be addressing this prestigious forum. Let me congratulate Dr Ebtesam Al Ketbi and the Emirates Policy Center for organising this event, which has established itself as a key fixture on the foreign policy landscape in the Gulf.
It has been another year of exceptional challenges in which we have witnessed some very harmful developments in the region. However, I now feel there is some reason for optimism. We have reached critical junctures in major conflicts and challenges across our region, from Yemen, to Libya, to Iran. The next twelve months could be decisive.
And the truth is that what always gives me most hope is seeing how the UAE continues to break new ground. Just this year we have welcomed the Catholic Pope to the Arabian Peninsula for the first time, sent the first Emirati into space, and hosted the first ever Special Olympics in the Middle East.
Next year, Expo 2020 will open in Dubai. It will be the first World Expo to be held in the region and the largest event in the Arab world, with 192 countries participating. More importantly, it will reaffirm the UAE’s ability to bring the world together and build cross-cultural understanding.
Empowering women and enhancing the role of young people remains at the core of the UAE’s priorities and we have seen significant further progress this year: when our Federal National Council meets next month, 50 per cent of its members will be women; and the Cabinet has decided that each government entity’s board must include at least one person under the age of 30.
This all adds up to a process of constant progressive evolution, driven by social, political and economic innovation.
Indeed, as we deal with the various regional crises it is vital that the UAE keeps evolving, not just for our own sake but to give others hope that life really can get better in this region.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The various crises that we have seen recently in the region require careful management and serious-minded statesmanship.
Amid the combination of the Iran-backed missile attacks on Saudi Arabia, the Turkish invasion of Syria, Israel’s threats to annex Palestinian territories, popular unrest in Iraq and Lebanon, as well as the ongoing conflicts in Yemen and Libya, there is very little room for missteps.
This situation calls for cool heads, firm resolve, and dynamic diplomacy. It also calls for principled cooperation - not destructive competition - between major powers.
The choice facing us is too often wrongly presented as a binary one between either ‘conflict’ or ‘capitulation’. Constructive ideas are in short supply, but they are needed more than ever, because I believe that in the midst of these crises there looms real opportunity.
So, when it comes to dealing with Iran, we should not fall for the false choice between war on the one hand or a flawed JCPOA on the other. Instead, this moment requires a renewed, robust and realistic diplomatic effort to reach a more sustainable agreement.
Iran’s behaviour remains a serious concern for other countries in the region. We do not seek confrontation but cannot accept the aggressive nature of Iran’s regional policy.
However, further escalation at this point serves no one and we strongly believe that there is room for collective diplomacy to succeed.
The UAE has therefore sought to deescalate tensions and help create awareness that this situation is neither sustainable nor beneficial to any party. My hope is that by taking this approach we may create an opening for a meaningful political process.
Such a process would need to address all the major security issues of concern to other countries in the region. These include Iran’s interventions, both directly and through proxies, in other countries in the region, as well as its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.
Given how we have seen Iran use its ballistic missiles, it will be difficult for any meaningful talks not to address this.
And critically, this time, the Gulf states would need to be at the negotiating table.
For such a process to work, it is essential that the international community is on the same page, especially the US and the EU, as well as the Arab Gulf states.
And we would of course need to see an end to flagrant attacks such as that on the Aramco facility, which are unacceptable and serve only to undermine the diplomatic process.
But I believe there could be a path to a deal with Iran that all parties might soon be ready to embark on. It will be long, and patience and courage will be required.
Nevertheless, if Iran can demonstrate it would be seriously committed to the process, I feel the conditions could be right to succeed.
A deal resulting from such a process could revitalise Iran’s economy and be a blueprint for a new, more stable regional order, in which all countries will be able to thrive.
Equally, the choice now on Yemen is not one between either endless conflict or abandoning the Yemeni people to the Houthis and Al Qaeda. Instead the situation calls for a muscular diplomacy that can move us towards a pragmatic, peaceful and sustainable political solution.
That is the kind of diplomacy that I saw last week in Riyadh, where I was part of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed’s delegation.
After witnessing the signing of the Riyadh Agreement on power-sharing between the Government of Yemen and the Southern Transitional Council, I was left with a real sense of optimism.
The UAE is grateful to Saudi Arabia for facilitating this agreement and commends the Government of Yemen and the STC for putting the interests of the Yemeni people first.
The Agreement solidifies the anti-Houthi coalition and provides a more robust basis for reaching a political solution. Now we need to build on the momentum this has given us.
Having redeployed our troops from Aden, the UAE’s priorities within the Coalition will be to continue to provide humanitarian aid, counter terror threats and protect maritime security.
We will also lend ongoing support to the Government of Yemen and the UN in their efforts to achieve a sustainable political solution.
The Coalition has managed to defend its strategic priorities in Yemen: the Houthis have been prevented from taking over the country; the threat of Al Qaeda has been degraded; the legitimate government of Yemen has started to rebuild; and, while the geostrategic balance in the Arabian Peninsula was severely challenged, ultimately it has not been altered.
However, the tragedy is that Yemenis have suffered greatly because of the refusal of the Houthis and their Iranian backers to comply with Security Council Resolution 2216.
In order to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people, the UAE has provided nearly US$6 billion in foreign aid since the conflict started, assisting 17.2 million Yemenis in 22 governorates. Continuing this humanitarian assistance will remain a top priority for us.
It is frankly all too easy for people to say that the Coalition should not have intervened in Yemen; that we should have stood by as the Houthis violently overthrew the legitimate government, brought an abrupt end to the peaceful transition process, and then refused to comply with the UN Security Council’s demand that they withdraw their forces.
Would it have been better for the Yemeni people if we had left it to the Iran-backed Houthis and Al Qaeda to divide the country up? In my view, the answer is a resounding ‘no’.
But the Coalition has long been committed to finding a political solution to the conflict.
Indeed, even before the present conflict, both Saudi Arabia and the UAE played a central role in developing the so-called ‘GCC Initiative’ which provided the roadmap for Yemen to undergo a peaceful political transition.
More recently, we have given strong and consistent support to the work of the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths.
The Coalition kept the pressure on the Houthis precisely in order to facilitate the peace process and we have fully supported the implementation of the Stockholm Agreement. Indeed, the UAE redeployed its forces away from Hodeidah in order to allow space for the agreement to work.
We remain concerned at the slow progress on implementation of the Stockholm Agreement but once it has been adequately implemented, the Yemeni people should urgently work towards a wider political agreement.
Such an agreement must take account of the legitimate aspirations of all parts of Yemeni society. That includes the Houthis. Houthi militias have wreaked havoc on the country, but they are a part of Yemeni society and they will have a role in its future.
Any sustainable political solution in Yemen must also allow for adequate security assurances for neighbouring states, including with regard to containing the terrorism threat, ensuring maritime security and of course preventing attacks against its neighbours emanating from Yemen.
The international community, and especially the UN Security Council, can be instrumental in helping to bring such a solution into being. And the UAE will certainly continue to play its part.
As we tackle these urgent problems, we should use this period of crisis as an opportunity to start to build a new regional order.
At the core of that order needs to be a respect for national sovereignty. This means an end to intervention as well as to the threat of intervention from other states. The cost to the region of the multiple flagrant violations of state sovereignty has been too high.
We cannot have a stable order if countries like Iran or Turkey feel they can freely intervene in other states or indeed if some states live in fear of intervention from others.
The Turkish invasion of northeastern Syria, for example, will continue to have negative humanitarian, security and geopolitical implications, especially if it leads to a prolonged Turkish presence on Syrian territory.
Turkey risks becoming increasingly isolated from the Arab world and its NATO partners, who want to see it return to being a stable and prosperous neighbor.
The Arab world must not be treated as geostrategic space over which its neighbours compete for influence.
But in our region, building this culture of respect for national sovereignty is also intimately interlinked with our efforts to tackle transnational Islamist extremist ideologies.
For it is in the nature of these ideologies, whether they be Sunni or Shia-based, that they do not recognize the legitimacy of national borders.
This is another reason that Turkey’s recent actions are so unwelcome, as they risk reversing some of the progress we have made in defeating Daesh.
This new regional order also requires a strong regional multilateralism that can support the peaceful resolution of disputes.
We need to be ready to act in unison to resolve conflicts between states, and to encourage countries to resolve any internal conflicts through political dialogue.
We have seen an example of this recently in Sudan.
The African Union as well as Saudi Arabia and the UAE played a vital role in helping to steward Sudan through a peaceful transition away from the oppressive regime of President Bashir and into a power-sharing arrangement. This will now lead to elections and a civilian government.
Our intentions on these issues are often lazily misrepresented in the media. Our interest in Sudan is not ideological. We are solely focused on helping it to avoid a chaotic and unruly transition and establish inclusive, moderate governance that will better respond to the aspirations of the Sudanese people, as well as support regional stability.
In a similar fashion, the community of Arab states must be ready to provide support to Iraq and Lebanon as they seek to find peaceful, constitutional and inclusive ways to manage the current challenges within their own countries.
Regional support for Arab countries must not be influenced by sectarian considerations. The tendency of radical Islamist groups to label Shia Arab populations as somehow adversaries of Sunni Arabs must be countered at every step. Shia Arabs feel as proud of their national and their Arab identities as anyone else does.
Therefore, this regional approach to maintaining peace and stability must have a strong, moderate Arab centre at its core. And over time we must strengthen the ability of regional multilateral institutions to contribute to this endeavour.
But this new regional order will be hollow and short-lived unless it is underpinned by a renewal of Arab states and values.
Peace and stability will only be sustainable if Arab governments can deliver for all their people’s aspirations, whether young or old, Muslim or Christian, male or female.
This is what we are committed to doing here in the UAE. Every day, new efforts are made to empower those people in society who have not always had as much opportunity as others, and to ensure they are able to play a full part in our collective success story.
It is striking that what I honestly see day in day out in my work is a leadership that is constantly preoccupied with practical questions of how to improve housing, healthcare, education and employment. This should be the same right across the region.
We have seen in the past how political unrest affects states in which citizens’ aspirations are frustrated. This is what we are seeing again today in Iraq and in Lebanon.
So, we must work with regional partners to promote the rule of law, the empowerment of women and youth, human rights and sustainable development.
That is why the UAE is committed to providing aid and technical support to other countries in the region as they work towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
It is also why we recently launched the Arab Charter on Women’s Rights in Abu Dhabi, as we must develop a clear code of conduct and ethics that is tailor-made for our region.
And at the same time, it is imperative that we strive to spread a more tolerant culture across the region.
This year has been named the ‘Year of Tolerance’ in the UAE because we know that mutual respect and engagement enhance understanding and provide a foundation for greater peace and stability.
The visit by His Holiness Pope Francis to the UAE last February was a truly historic moment and the signing of the ‘Document on Human Fraternity’ by the Pope and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar represented a courageous rejection of the politics of division.
The UAE has now announced that it will be constructing the Abrahamic Family House in which a mosque, a church and a synagogue will stand side by side in Abu Dhabi.
These actions we are taking are not random, isolated steps but instead are part of a coherent long-term vision that underpins the UAE’s success story. Together they also reflect a distinctive vision for what a modern, revitalized, moderate region could be like.
However, the future of the regional order cannot be entirely separated from the future of the global order.
Sadly, the rise of populism, the preoccupation of western countries with their own internal concerns, as well as growing divisions between the US, Europe, Russia and China, mean that we are not getting the kind of coherent international leadership that we need in this region.
Yet it is surely in the interest of all the world’s major powers to see a region that is peaceful, economically dynamic and ideologically moderate.
They should therefore cooperate in support of building the kind of regional order I have described, instead of seeking narrow and short-sighted advantage for themselves.
Thankfully the blueprint for this already exists, in the UN Charter. But we need to inject new life into the Charter in ways that will benefit this region.
So how can we do this?
First, the Security Council needs to more robustly enforce the principles enshrined in the Charter, as well as its own Resolutions.
This must include acting more consistently to address threats and interventions in violation of state sovereignty.
And when the Council resolves to address threats to peace and security in this region, it is crucial that it ensures enforcement by all member states.
Unfortunately, it has often failed to do so, whether that be in Palestine, Yemen or Syria, to name only a few examples.
Of course, to strengthen its long-term effectiveness, the Council will also ultimately need to be reformed in order to be more reflective of the current balance of power in the world.
Second, the Security Council needs to fully utilize Chapter 8 of the Charter and promote a greater involvement of regional organisations in the peaceful settlement of disputes.
The Council should increase coordination and early consultation with the relevant regional and sub-regional players. They often possess the greatest understanding of the disputes and the strongest interest in resolving them.
The African Union is developing as a powerful example of how this can work, with the leading role it plays in resolving disputes in Africa, supported by the Security Council.
Similar support should be extended to regional organisations and states in the Middle East.
Third, the UN General Assembly needs to preserve and reinforce the progress we have achieved in promoting international norms on human rights, women’s empowerment and tolerance, as well as on tackling common challenges such as climate change.
The development of international norms and goals, underpinned by a combination of international cooperation, peer pressure and international obligations, has undoubtedly supported progressive change in the Middle East and around the world.
It would be a tragedy if this progressive consensus and the cooperation envisaged in the UN Charter were to be undermined by the rise of a more fragmented world order.
These principles are not radical or new but by reinforcing them the international community can provide more effective support for the development of a new regional order.
And if the UAE is elected to a non-permanent seat on the Security Council in 2022, these are certainly some of the principles that will guide us.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The preamble of the UN Charter wisely commits member states ‘to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours’.
Nearly 75 years after the Charter was signed, this spirit has never been so needed in this region.
I believe there is an opportunity for positive change in the regional order. But the principles that should underpin this change need to be more consistently supported by world powers.
Unlocking this kind of regional and international change will require creative diplomacy and true leadership.
The UAE stands ready to contribute to the kind of leadership that this moment demands:
It is incumbent on every one of us to provide that kind of leadership and work together to build a region and a world that is fit for our grandchildren to inherit.