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Unshakable allies, focused on ending the Syrian crisis

The United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates share strong bonds of history and a vision of a more secure, equitable and prosperous world.

The United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates share strong bonds of history and a vision of a more secure, equitable and prosperous world.

In foreign policy, we cooperate closely. Iran, Yemen, Somalia and Syria are at the forefront of our minds. And we work shoulder to shoulder in seeking to promote development and humanitarian relief. Our common aim is simple: maintaining international peace and security and helping those in need.

In 2010 we established the UK-UAE Taskforce, to re-energise every area of our bilateral relationship from foreign policy to trade. In the three years that have followed, our ties have gone from strength to strength, with significant mutual investment in business and cultural partnerships. We build on strong foundations: on bilateral trade that already exceeds 10 billion (Dh57 billion), and on human ties that include approximately 100,000 British citizens living in the UAE and many tens of thousands of Emirati citizens who live, study or holiday in the UK each year. There is every reason to be confident that the best days of our relationship lie ahead of us.

Our partnership is also rooted in common values such as tolerance, religious freedom and the empowerment of women. It was UK-UAE cooperation, for example, that brought Malala to Britain for the life-saving treatment that has enabled her to resume her education and her vital work, in safety.

We have also announced today $3 million (Dh11 million) in joint funding to help Somalia tackle the challenge of sexual violence in conflict. Somalia has suffered decades of conflict. Preventing violence against women and girls and ensuring that their rights are upheld is a vital part of ensuring a better future for the Somali people.

Sometimes we differ, but always we recognise and respect shades of social and cultural diversity. Today we have established a new Dialogue of Values between our two states where we can discuss both human rights and security challenges and how we can work together to promote our common values in a rapidly changing world.

The UK-UAE relationship is not static, nor do we take it for granted. Our common resolve is tested every day, particularly in North Africa and the wider Middle East, where huge changes are taking place.

The most urgent challenge for the international community and for both our countries is the conflict in Syria. The reports of use of chemical weapons are yet another step in the brutal campaign that the Assad regime has unleashed against Syrian citizens, and which the world must confront resolutely.

As partners in the Friends of Syria group, the UK and UAE are working towards finding a negotiated solution to the crisis in Syria and ending the appalling humanitarian suffering there.

We want to see a stable and pluralistic Syria, able to heal the wounds of this conflict and open a new chapter in its relations with the region and the world. So we are focusing our joint efforts on four areas:

First, we continue to work with the Syrian opposition, including the Syrian National Coalition, which both our countries recognise as the sole legitimate representatives of the Syrian people. Based on our own experiences of diverse society, we want to help ensure that the National Coalition is broad and represents all Syrians, regardless of ethnicity, religion or gender. We fully support the National Coalition's commitments to a free and democratic Syria with equal rights for all its citizens.

It would be a tragedy if Syria's rich and historic cultural mosaic were to become a casualty of the conflict. We therefore welcome the coalition's adoption of a Declaration of Principles in Istanbul, which enables us to increase our own support.

Second, it is absolutely crucial that we help to empower the moderates within Syria who have a vision for a future of inclusiveness and prosperity, and who reject extremism. We believe that with our robust support the National Coalition can not only deliver help to save Syrian lives, but we can also advance our mutual goal of countering extremist influences in the region.

Third, our common humanity compels us to support those Syrians who have lost their homes and who have been made refugees. This is why the UK has contributed around 141 million in humanitarian assistance to the Syrian cause.

The UAE too has given generously, with special recognition of the particular burdens that the refugee situation places on the resources of neighbouring countries. The UAE has fully funded, constructed and administered an entire refugee camp in Jordan, with an emphasis on quality construction that allows entire families to stay together and resume some semblance of normality.

Fourth, we are working now to put in place the mechanisms that will be needed to speed Syria's recovery when the conflict is over. Access for humanitarian agencies operating inside Syria is increasingly constrained; the government of Syria is imposing considerable bureaucratic hurdles, and extreme insecurity means humanitarian workers are finding it increasingly difficult to get aid to those in need.

So our work to increase humanitarian aid and plan support for a future government in Syria is absolutely vital.

Despite the massive efforts of our countries and many of our allies, the situation remains dire and far more needs to be done. Our diplomatic strength and our resolve to help those in need will be tested.

But as close and trusted friends and unshakable allies we will work to meet this challenge as well as to make the most of every opportunity to strengthen the prosperity and security of our citizens.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed is the UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs. William Hague is the UK Foreign Secretary

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