DUBAI // The British prime minister, David Cameron, yesterday said the UK’s strong ties with the UAE and other Arabian Gulf countries were crucial for the security of his people.
Mr Cameron arrived in the capital late on Sunday night for a two-day visit to the country, accompanied by a delegation including the British defence secretary Philip Hammond, and trade and investment minister Lord Stephen Green.
“We value our ties of friendship and believe this is vital for the prosperity and security of our nation,” he told The National.
Mr Cameron yesterday had breakfast with RAF personnel at Al Minhad airbase in Dubai, then travelled to the World Trade Centre on the Metro with Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairman of Emirates Airline, and Dr Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.
At the trade centre he attended the Big 5 International Building and Construction Show.
He was later received by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai.
The Crown Prince and Mr Cameron met the members of the UAE-UK Joint Economic Committee in the capital. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed hailed the historic relations between the two countries.
“Our distinguished relations pushes us forward to further developing them to become more successful to serve the best interest of the two countries,” he said, Wam reported.
Mr Cameron told a group of about 100 Zayed University students in the capital that the UAE and Britain are “like a family” and said differences, such as those raised by criticisms before the European Parliament over the UAE’s human-rights record, were “discussions we can have”.
“My country very much strongly believes that giving people a job and a voice is vital for creating a stable, prosperous society,” he said.
“But I do think standing up for human rights and standing up for rights of people to have a job and voice around the world is important. And I think this is a discussion our countries can have. Nothing is off-limits in the relationship we have.”
He welcomed the steps taken in the Emirates: “Here in the UAE, the progress you have made in 40 years of statehood is remarkable – one of the highest GDPs in the world; the leading Arab nation in the UN’s measure of human development and well-being, just two places behind the UK; and more women university graduates than men.
“I also respect the steps taken to develop the role of the Federal National Council. I believe 21st century economies require open societies and that reform is the best way to maintain stability. At the same time, I respect the different histories and traditions each country has, and change has to be pursued with respect for these differences.”
In an interview with The National, Mr Cameron said the UK was committed to working with its allies to resolve the nuclear threat from Iran.
“On Iran, I’ve made clear that it is not just a threat to the region, it’s a threat to the world,” he said.
The prime minister said the UK believed in a twin approach of applying pressure through sanctions and diplomatic talks.
“We need the courage to give these sanctions time to work,” he said. “But I’ve also made clear that if Iran makes the wrong choice, nothing is off the table.”
His visit comes at a time when tension over Iran’s nuclear programme and its occupation of three UAE islands – Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs – continues to grow.
A new Iranian naval base on the country’s south coast with missile and marine units was inaugurated on Sunday, according to Iranian state television.
The prime minister said that both the UK and the UAE want to protect the security of their citizens and boost their nations’ prosperity.
“We believe that the twin-track approach of pressure, through sanctions, and engagement with Iran is the best way to resolve the nuclear issue,” he said.
According to Mr Cameron, the sanctions on Iran are having an impact. “They have slowed the nuclear programme, Iranian oil exports have fallen by 45 per cent and that’s one million fewer barrels a day and US$8 billion (Dh29.4bn) in revenues lost every quarter,” he said.
“These effects are putting the Iranian regime under unprecedented pressure and they face an acute dilemma – lead their people to global isolation and an economic collapse, or grasp the negotiated settlement on offer.
“So, now is not the time to resort to military action. Instead, we need the courage to give these sanctions time to work. But if, in the long term, Iran makes the wrong choice, nothing is off the table. A nuclear-armed Iran is a threat to the world and the United Kingdom and I will work unwaveringly to prevent that from happening.”
On foreign policy in the region, Mr Cameron told The National that the UAE and Britain already work together closely.
He said that, during this visit, considerations will be made on what more can be done to increase the pressure on the Syrian regime and support those who seek a political transition.
“Of course, right now, the challenges of maintaining stability in the region are a priority for both our countries and we are working hand-in-hand on these issues. We both want to bring peace to Syria.”
Responding to criticisms raised in the UK Parliament regarding human rights in this region, Mr Cameron said: “Britain is also a country that stands up for human rights around the world and backs people’s aspirations for a job and a voice.”
At Zayed University yesterday, Mr Cameron was quizzed by students on the EU resolution “pressuring” the UAE on the issue of human rights.
Syria was a topic also on students’ minds. When asked about the lack of resolutions from United Nations to end the bloodshed in the country, he said the UN had “failed”.
“In the case of Syria, the United Nations has let the world down,” he said. “I am worried that in the history books written, people will look back and say, ‘why didn’t you do more when we see 20, 30, 40,000 people losing their lives’. We will go on pushing at the United Nations for tougher resolutions, tougher actions against Syria.”
He said like-minded countries, such as the UAE and the UK, needed to think about what more they can do to help resolve the situation.
When footages on television shows random shelling on cities, “you know that Bashar Al Assad cannot possibly stay running this country,” he said.
“There is no circumstances that he can be part of a transition for a peaceful Syria. So he has to go. But it is sad that the United Nations hasn’t been able to play a leading role over the transition.”