x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

UAE to stand firm on sanctions if Syria resists

Foreign Minister says sanction outcome rests with Damascus.

ABU DHABI // The UAE will stand firm in imposing sanctions on Syria unless it allows Arab League observers into the country, the Minister of Foreign Affairs said yesterday.

On Sunday the Arab League voted, with UAE support, to impose severe trade sanctions on Syria unless it signs a protocol in response to its increasingly heavy-handed treatment of protesters.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed said at a session for foreign reporters in the capital yesterday that he still hoped Syria would sign, letting Arab League observers in without preconditions.

"The Arab League was obliged to take these measures on Syria to convince Syria to accept the Arab protocol," Sheikh Abdullah said.

"We are still hoping, and wanting, Damascus to accept to sign this protocol … so that we can avoid any punishment on Damascus."

He admitted pressure was growing for various government bodies and the Arab League to impose the sanctions voted for last Sunday, but expressed the hope it would not come to that.

"It is very important not to get ahead of events and [to] be optimistic to solve this crisis as it is," Sheikh Abdullah said. "It is hard for me or anyone else to say what would happen if it is implemented or not.

"I think it is best to give Damascus a chance to think about the difficult situation it has put itself in, and has put the Arabs in. But [sanctions] will not be stopped unless Syria helps us from taking these measure."

He said adopting the sanctions was still at the procedural stage.

After reports yesterday that Dubai was about to halt flights to Syria, the head of the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority, Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansoori, issued a statement saying that, as matters stood, UAE airlines had no intention of suspending flights.

Questioned about other countries affected by the Arab Spring, Sheikh Abdullah said the UAE had tightened its visa process but no particular country was affected.

In the light of the "abnormal changes" in the economy, security and politics of countries across the region, he said it was "the right of every country to go over their policy in providing visas".

Asked about widespread rumours of restrictions on visas for Egyptians, Sheikh Abdullah said authorities had tightened up on "all nationalities".

"We did not specify these procedures against a particular nationality, whether Egyptian or not," he said. "We are going over all visit, work or residency visa procedures."

He said the country's attitude towards Egypt would be the same "regardless of who rules it and how".

"We must all help and support Egypt in this period," Sheikh Abdullah said, adding there had been several recent meetings between Emirati and Egyptian officials.

"We have solved problems, others are still there. One of them is investing in Egypt."

He congratulated Tunisia for the changes it has made, saying it deserved to be a model for all other countries witnessing uprisings.

Sheikh Abdullah said the UAE was ready to help Libya if asked.

And he said the GCC welcomed and supported steps taken by Bahrain.

"Countries make mistakes on a daily basis in their actions," he said. "What is harder is to take the right decision in the right time to fix these mistakes, and find the best solution so it does not happen again in the future. This is the role of leadership."

Asked about possible entrants to the GCC, Sheikh Abdullah said Yemeni membership was a distant prospect for the moment but the UAE would continue to support the country "in every way possible".

"Then we can start to discuss Yemen joining the GCC," he said.

Sheikh Abdullah said Jordan and Morocco, which were invited in September to GCC membership talks, would first need to establish stable relationships with the bloc and be economically and politically stable.

"It is not wrong to look for strategic partners that would strengthen [the GCC] and not weaken it," he said.

Sheikh Abdullah said online threats against the five Emiratis convicted of state-security offences and pardoned this week by Sheikh Khalifa, the President, were not acceptable.

"The court ruled, the society accepted the ruling, the President pardoned these five Emiratis, then after that, as you said, there is who has welcomed it and who has objected," he said.

Sheikh Abdullah said the pardon could only be interpreted as a sign that the country was one of "tolerance and brotherhood", and he strongly opposed anyone who objected to it.


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