190909 Anwar Gargash
Anwar Gargash Image Credit: AFP

Abu Dhabi

The UAE does not seek confrontation with Iran but it cannot accept the aggressive nature of Iran’s regional policy, Dr Anwar Mohammad Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, told a regional strategy conference on Sunday.

“When it comes to dealing with Iran, we should not fall for the false choice between war on the one hand or a flawed Iran nuclear deal on the other. Instead, this moment requires a renewed, robust and realistic diplomatic effort to reach a more sustainable agreement,” Dr Gargash told the sixth edition of Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate being held at the Emirates Palace.

Dr Gargash stressed 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,” he said.

However, Dr. Gargash said, further escalation at this point serves no one and we strongly believe that there is room for collective diplomacy to succeed.

Meaningful process

“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,” Dr. Gargash said.

He reiterated 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.”

Dr Gargash said 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.”

Dr Gargash said he believes 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,” Dr Gargash said.

Yemen aid

UAE has provided nearly $6 billion aid to Yemen since the conflict started, assisting 17.2 million Yemenis in 22 governorates, Dr Gargash said.

He said the choice now for Yemen is not between endless conflict and abandoning the Yemeni people to the Houthis and Al Qaeda.

“Instead the situation calls for a 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 Shaikh Mohammed Bin Zayed’s [Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces] delegation.”

Dr Gargash added, “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.”

He added having redeployed 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.

Sustainable solution

“We will also lend ongoing support to the Government of Yemen and the UN in their efforts to achieve a sustainable political solution,” he said.

Dr Gargash reiterated 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,” Dr Gargash said.

He said in order to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people, the UAE has provided nearly $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,” he said.

He asked 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’.”

GCC initiative

Dr Gargash said 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.”

Dr. Gargash added 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,” he said.

Dr. Gargash reiterated 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,” he said.

Strategic Debate

Participants tackled a number of pressing international issues during the Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate event, including the Global Military Map: Distribution and Militarising the War of Technology, The Global Geo-Financial Map and The Global Geo-Technological Map: Artificial Intelligence and Cyber Capabilities Distribution.

The Global Energy Map and the International and Regional Game were also discussed along with Emirati Policies in the New Age: The Capabilities of Artificial Intelligence and Space Industry.

High-level participants included Omar Sultan Al Olama, Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, Ambassador Boris Ruge, Vice Chairman at Munich Security Conference and Shaukat Aziz, former Prime Minister of Pakistan.