x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Foreign Ministry reorganises to cope with expanding range of interests

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed appoints four senior aides with political, economic, legal and special affairs portfolios.

ABU DHABI // Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Foreign Minister, has appointed four senior aides with political, economic, legal and special affairs portfolios as part of a ministry restructuring aimed at meeting the UAE's growing foreign relations commitments and interests. The appointments come as part of a government policy to "upgrade" the performance of federal institutions, according to the state news agency, WAM.

The new positions will be filled by veteran ministry officials: Rashid al Falahi, assistant for special affairs; Dr Tariq al Haidan, assistant for political affairs; Dr Abdul Rahim al Awadi, assistant for legal and international organisations affairs; and Khaled al Ghaith, assistant for economic affairs. "Introducing the role of assistant to the Foreign Minister is very important to keep pace with the growing role of the UAE," said Dr Mohammed bin Huwaidin, a political scientist at UAE University.

The new portfolios were necessary, he said, because the Foreign Ministry had remained virtually unchanged since its creation. "The UAE's foreign relations are complicated, thorny and large-scale," he said, adding that "the minister can't do everything". UAE foreign policy has been focused for years on boosting American and European trade and military ties, supporting the governments of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan and closely following the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The new positions "complement the minister's work because his tasks are more complex and diverse and he needs people to help him," Dr Huwaidin said. Experts, including Dr Huwaidin, argue that the UAE's foreign policy has gone through a number of phases. In the earliest phase, UAE officials focused on shuttle diplomacy to secure international recognition of the federation following its creation in 1971.

At later stages it shifted towards deeper involvement in regional issues. Sheikh Zayed, the late founder of the nation, shared most of the Arab world's concerns and placed the Palestinian question high on his agenda. Peter Hellyer, an expert on UAE affairs, argued in a study published nine years ago that the UAE had expanded its policy in the 1990s to areas beyond the region. That was prominently marked by sending troops to Kosovo in 1999.

Dr bin Huwaidin said the reach of the UAE's foreign policy had expanded rapidly following the Iraq war in 2003. This expansion has been marked by a desire to ensure stability in the region and in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In recent months, the UAE's foreign policy has been extended to include Africa, with Sheikh Abdullah visiting the capitals of more than a dozen African nations. On top of the agenda was drumming up support for the UAE's bid to host the headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency.

The UAE also established diplomatic relations with Liberia this month. The Government is expected to tap into France's major diplomatic presence in Africa by dispatching Emirati diplomats in its embassies. On Tuesday, the two countries signed an agreement allowing the UAE to make use of French embassies in countries in which it does not have diplomatic representation.
mhabboush@thenational.ae