DUBAI // The nuclear threat posed by Iran is the biggest challenge facing the UAE's relationship with the UK in the coming years, says the former Conservative party leader Michael Howard.
Lord Howard of Lympne was speaking at the end of a five-day fact-finding mission by a group of British parliamentarians to the Emirates.
Lord Howard, who led the group, said the two countries shared close and friendly ties that dated back many years, but admitted the relationship had been neglected more recently.
"If Iran were to get nuclear weapons, then it's likely that other countries in the region would also seek to achieve nuclear capability," he said. "That is why it's such a serious issue and one that needs addressing."
Lord Howard said it was crucial for the world, not just the UAE, that the Strait of Hormuz remained open, despite threats from Iran to close it.
"It's a vital trade route, not just for Iranian oil but also from other countries, and keeping it open is important for everyone," he said.
Lord Howard praised the role played by the UAE in the recent Libyan conflict and in providing developmental assistance in Afghanistan, saying the Emirates was an important player in the region.
"The UAE has played a very positive international role," he said.
But he was not hopeful that the latest peace efforts put forward by the former UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, now the UN and Arab League envoy to Syria, to try to quell the violence in Syria would work.
Everyone was hopeful sanctions would work against the regime of the president, Bashar Al Assad, said Lord Howard.
"Among other things, both the UK and UAE have given money to the Syrian opposition, but it's a very complicated situation there and it's difficult to see how it could be resolved at the moment," he said.
The UK-UAE All Party Parliamentary Group consists of about 80 parliamentarians with an interest in the UAE from all parties in both Houses of the UK's Parliament. Ten members of the group took part in this visit.
The delegation was given tours of the eco-friendly Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, the advanced aircraft component maker Strata in Al Ain, as well as Dubai Ports, Jebel Ali and Dubai International Financial Centre.
The group was also taken to the Abu Dhabi Ports Company for a briefing on the new Khalifa Industrial Zone.
"It's been a very interesting visit and I am really impressed with the energy and enthusiasm in the UAE," Lord Howard said.
"This is my first time in Dubai but I have been to Abu Dhabi before on a couple of occasions.
"Each time I visit I'm impressed by the progress and this visit is no different. The whole reason for this visit is to develop understanding of the UAE so that when we can go back and spread that understanding among our colleagues.
"The prime minister, David Cameron, made the UAE one of his first official visits and the chancello,r George Osborne, was also in the country, so the UK takes this relationship very seriously."
The group was invited by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.
"Both our countries value this relationship and trade between the two nations is beneficial to the UK and the UAE," Lord Howard said.
"By working together we can achieve much more than individually."
Both countries hope to boost trade to £12 billion (Dh70.35bn) by 2015.