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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

UAE ambassador: Iran-Houthi missiles pose significant threat to Saudi and Emirates

Yousef Al Otaiba tells debate of need to tackle enemies, while US speaker Paul Ryan says Tehran is losing 'its stranglehold on its population'

Speaker of the US House of Representatives Paul Ryan and UAE Ambassador to the US Yousef Al Otaiba speak before an audience at the Emirates Diplomatic Academy on Thursday. Victor Besa for The National
Speaker of the US House of Representatives Paul Ryan and UAE Ambassador to the US Yousef Al Otaiba speak before an audience at the Emirates Diplomatic Academy on Thursday. Victor Besa for The National

The UAE Ambassador to the United States has said the threat posed by Iranian-Houthi missiles cannot be left unchecked, as he warned of the need for fresh sanctions against Tehran.

"If it’s Saudi now, it’s the UAE next and God knows where,” he said of recent missile launches by the rebels into Saudi population areas.

Mr Al Otaiba, who is also a government minister, was speaking alongside US House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, the most senior Republican in Congress, before an audience in Abu Dhabi on Thursday.

“There should be sanctions that address the missile threat, as long as they don’t affect the nuclear deal," he said at the Emirates Diplomatic Academy.

"Demonstrations in Iran have shown that the regime is either lost or losing legitimacy among its people.”

A United Nations report in November found four ballistic missiles fired into Saudi Arabia by the Houthis appear to have been designed and built by Iran.

Mr Ryan said the US government was also focused on the Iran threat to regional stability and agreed with Mr Al Otaiba about the need for sanctions, many of which were lifted when Tehran agreed to end its nuclear arms programme.

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“This is an existential threat to you, to Saudi Arabia and we see this issue the same way that you do,” he said.

“We have all been watching recent protests in Iran, which is proof that the regime has firmly turned segments of society against it.

"This does not come as any surprise but it’s very noteworthy that the regime is losing its stranglehold on its population.”

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley gestures as she speaks in front recovered segments of an Iranian rocket during a press briefing at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017, in Washington. Haley says "undeniable" evidence proves Iran is violating international law by funneling missiles to Houthi rebels in Yemen. Haley unveiled recently declassified evidence including segments of missiles launched at Saudi Arabia from Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley gestures as she speaks in front recovered segments of an Iranian rocket in December. Cliff Owen / AP Photo

“Congress will not repeat the mistakes in the past and we will not remain silent about the plight of Iranian people, who have faced brutal repression at the hands of the regime in Tehran,” he said.

Mr Ryan, also spoke of the US leading in the fight against terrorist groups such as Isil and Al Qaeda.

“For too long, American leadership has been lacking in the Middle East and that vacuum, others have been filling,” he said.

“That is going to change. Back in Washington, we are working to provide our military with the tools and resources required to stay ahead of the challenges we have today.”

He spoke of the UAE and the US’ common mission to defeat and degrade their adversaries.

Relations between the Gulf and the US have become strained in recent months, in part due to the decision by Donald Trump to back the decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

But Mr Ryan spoke of strong joint work between them in the fight against Isil.

“There is no question this administration inherited a fight against Isis that wasn’t being fought as aggressively as it could and should have been. We have made tremendous strides in this fight but their objectives are not simply limited to territorial gains – they seem to inflict death and destruction on the US and on our allies by any means necessary," he said.

He said in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death, Al Qaeda had made significant gains around the world through their affiliates, grown, rebuilt and decentralised their operations.

“This of all people is not new to you, here in the Emirates. You fight this battle every single day against Al Qaeda in Yemen so you understand first-hand why we must take these threats very seriously.”

Mr Al Otaiba also spoke of joint work between the UAE and the US against extremism.

“It is not going to be over next year or next week,” he said. “It’s a generational struggle that will only be overcome if we work together on all levels – military, ideology, funding, promoting opportunities and expanding our education.”