Abu Dhabi // The UAE hopes to strengthen relations with the US when Barack Obama becomes president next month, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE, has said. Speaking to the London-based pan-Arab daily Al Hayat, Sheikh Khalifa also expressed hope that the Obama administration would play an increasingly influential role in building stability in the Gulf and brokering a comprehensive peace in the Middle East.
"We believe that our relations with the new US administration will follow the same line and build upon the previous, the aim being to strengthen them so as to serve the common interests of the two countries and two peoples. "We have hope that the United States of America under the new US administration of President Barack Obama will have an increasing role in achieving a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East and in consolidating security and stability in the Gulf region."
His speech follows the country's recent deal to buy missile defence technology for US$3.3 billion (Dh12.11bn) from an American firm, Raytheon. The deal includes technology, training and supplying the defence systems. The UAE has embarked on a significant modernisation of its armed forces, including purchases of six corvette warships being produced by Abu Dhabi Ship Building and 80 F-16 jet fighters from Lockheed Martin.
The moves also come during heightened international concern over Iran's nuclear programme, which the US and its allies allege is intended for developing nuclear weapons. Sheikh Khalifa emphasised that the UAE's military upgrades were necessary for security, but would be used solely for defensive purposes. "We are pursuing our armament programme under our vision that there should always be peace and security, both of which need force to ensure their continuation," he said. "Therefore, our defence programme has always been defensive-based."
He also highlighted the transparency with which the country is pursuing its nuclear energy programme. Some members of the US Congress have expressed reservations over potential American assistance in developing the programme. Sheikh Khalifa lauded the GCC for providing positive leadership in furthering stability in the region. The six-member organisation had provided a clear agenda for fostering peace, he said, and he called on more regional actors to use their wealth and access to oil and vital shipping lanes to do the same.
"We believe that GCC countries have been able to develop a clear vision of the concept of regional peace and security in the Gulf," Sheikh Khalifa said. "They are also making relentless efforts to defuse any potential conflict in the region. We expect, therefore, that more countries, particularly in the region, should take similar action." His comments come just weeks before this month's GCC summit in the Omani capital Muscat. The agenda of the regional grouping's meeting includes further steps towards adopting a common GCC currency, market and citizenship as well as bolstering their common defences.
"The summit will be of paramount importance, especially at this particular juncture, in view of the developments in the region and the world," he said. On domestic issues, Sheikh Khalifa highlighted recent decisions by the Government to enhance the role of the Federal National Council. Extending members' terms from two years to four and introducing female members was part of this, he said. "There is no doubt that these amendments, which fell within the scope of a comprehensive vision to develop and activate the role of the Federal National Council, followed well-studied steps that take into account where we stand as a nation and the developments taking place in our country."
One of the developments he underscored was the recognition of the UAE's growing diversity, which has alarmed some nationals, who represent a demographic minority. The country's ability to absorb such a broad range of nationalities has invited praise from the international community. "We look at the demographic composition of UAE from a positive perspective, which reflects the ability of our people and our country to meld together such a diverse population and form a model of human interaction that is able to contribute to the process of building and the advancement of our country, leading our country to attain an advanced level of civilisation and development."