SHARM EL SHEIKH, EGYPT // Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed said he had positive discussions with Hillary Clinton about Iran and a deal to share nuclear energy technology in their first meeting since she was appointed US secretary of state. The Foreign Minister said their meeting on the sidelines of a Gaza donor conference here was "very good" and covered topics such as a so-called 123 agreement to share atomic energy know-how and Iran's occupation of three islands in the Arabian Gulf.
"We spoke about a broad range of issues, one of which was the 123 agreement between the UAE and the United States," Sheikh Abdullah told The National after the meeting. "We think the agreement could be a model for any country which is seriously aiming to have a nuclear capability for producing energy and not something else." There were concerns that the deal, negotiated while George W Bush was president and which would permit US firms to sell civilian nuclear technology to the Emirates, would face roadblocks following the election of Barack Obama as US president.
But Sheikh Abdullah said he had a "very good chat about this" with Mrs Clinton, and that the new administration had "shown a lot of interest in pushing [the 123 agreement] ahead". The meeting took place as delegates from about 80 countries met in Egypt's resort on the Red Sea to pledge aid for Gaza following Israel's December-January offensive in the territory and to address wider issues in the moribund Middle East peace process.
Sheikh Abdullah also said the appointments of Mrs Clinton and of George Mitchell as special envoy for the Middle East gave him reason to place a "lot of extra trust in the new administration and in President Obama". "I think they have the means and the capability and the international support for putting an end on this conflict and having a two state solution that would protect the people in Israel and in Palestine," he said.
A US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Mrs Clinton told Sheikh Abdullah that she was "doubtful" Iran would respond to overtures of engagement by the new US administration. Mrs Clinton told Sheikh Abdullah she was under "no illusion" over Iran, which the West suspects of trying to build a nuclear bomb, the senior state department official said. Tehran claims its nuclear programme is civilian and peaceful in nature.
"We will be consulting with regional leaders and listening. She said our eyes are wide open with regard to Iran," said the official of Mrs Clinton's conversation with Sheikh Abdullah. "The secretary said 'be confident that you will be privy to our strategy and be consulted'." Sheikh Abdullah said the issue of Iran's regional ambitions were also discussed, noting that he always "brings up the issue of the islands in official meetings", referring to the occupied islands of Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunb.
"It is our position that Iran occupies our three islands and have been continuing to do so for the last 37 years," the minister said. The minister did not say whether Mrs Clinton supported the UAE's claims to the islands, which were occupied by Iran when the British withdrew their forces from the region in 1971. Sheikh Abdullah added that a committee formed by Tehran and Abu Dhabi to discuss the perennial dispute is expected to have its inaugural meeting "quite soon".
"I think we always have faith and hope that our neighbours do realise and understand, as Iranians, there is a matter that has to be resolved with the UAE, and the UAE is giving Iran all the legal arguments possible," he said. The minister said Iran was unwilling to accept international arbitration on the dispute because of how "poor their case is". firstname.lastname@example.org Clinton's maiden tour, page a12