x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

PM defends Iran nuclear programme if 'peaceful'

Foreign policy based on dialogue, says Sheikh Mohammed, stressing UAE opposition to weapons of mass destruction in the region.

Iran's nuclear programme is an "internal matter" and should not be interfered with as long as that country asserts that its intentions are peaceful, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid said in his online Q&A session yesterday.

UAE foreign policy was based on mutual respect and the resolution of conflict through dialogue and diplomatic means, the Prime Minister said in response to a question about the Iranian nuclear threat. "Given that we adopt the principle of not interfering in the internal matters of others, then our adoption of the same principle should be much stronger with a Muslim friend that also happens to be a neighbouring country," he said. "Iran's nuclear programme is an internal matter of the nation of Iran, as long as our brothers in Iran continue to reassure the world that the programme is peaceful."

Sheikh Mohammed reiterated that the Government remained firmly opposed to the presence of any weapons of mass destruction in the region, "whether nuclear, chemical, or biological". Addressing the relationship between the two countries, with Iran being one of the UAE's biggest trade partners, but also the source of a long dispute over three islands in the Arabian Gulf, Sheikh Mohammed said it was easier to resolve a conflict with a friend than an enemy.

He said the UAE position on the islands, which Iran seized in 1971, was clear: it sought a "peaceful settlement" in accordance with international law and did not need "mediators". "If this issue is solved as such, we could together avoid all what could possibly disturb the security and stability of the region," he said. Moving on to national political issues, the Prime Minister discussed the recent Cabinet reshuffle. Last month the Government announced that Humaid Mohammed Obaid al Qattami, the Minister of Health at the time, and Dr Hanif Hassan, who was the Minister of Education, would swap portfolios.

Sheikh Mohammed said through working closely with his team he had concluded that the two men would "excel more" if they switched roles. "I understand that some people were surprised by the switch in portfolios," he said. "However, it is more important to understand that among the duties of a leader is understanding the abilities of his team members - and directing them to a field where they will be more productive and creative."

On the strides made by women in government, taking positions as ambassadors and ministers, the Prime Minister said progress did not happen "accidentally" but was the result of "planned work" and the efforts of female leaders. He singled out Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, the widow of the late President, Sheikh Zayed, saying she had worked for decades to provide opportunities for women in education and employment.

The number of females exceeded males in universities and the federal Government because of the choices women had been able to make, he said. "I am proud of the status the Emirati women have reached. Just look back, 40 years ago, to the numbers of educated versus illiterate people; you will realise the tremendous achievements and the big leap our society, and women in particular, have taken." Sheikh Mohammed said he took a hands-on approach both as prime minister and when it came to running Dubai, and that "field visits" enabled him to get to know government employees by name. He said he gave equal attention to local and federal government entities.

"It is my duty to be fully aware of what is going on in my country, and in the Government," he said. "I know all the contours of my country, and I know the conditions and ambitions of my people because I live amongst them without any barriers between us." lmorris@thenational.ae