x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

UK seeks strong defence ties with the Gulf

Defence secretary says UK has made a 'deliberate commitment' to re-engage with the Gulf states.

Phillip Hammond, the British defence secretary, paid his first official visit to the UAE yesterday and pledged that ties between the two countries would improve.
Phillip Hammond, the British defence secretary, paid his first official visit to the UAE yesterday and pledged that ties between the two countries would improve.

ABU DHABI // Ties between Britain and the UAE will only get stronger, the British defence secretary said yesterday in his first official visit to the country.

Since its coalition government took office in 2010, the UK's relationship with the region has increased with a series of visits by various ministers and the British Queen Elizabeth II.

"We made a deliberate commitment for the UK to re-engage with Gulf states," Philip Hammond said yesterday at the British Embassy.

And in light of the Arab Spring, he applauded the "proactive foreign policy" position taken by the UAE.

"We are very pleased with the forward-leaning posture that the UAE has taken in both Libya - engaging early and very effectively to ensure we can secure a UN Security Council resolution, and being among the first nations to back that resolution up - [and] also in Syria," Mr Hammond said.

He said the UAE foreign policy was "very positive both for the regional and international community".

Mr Hammond said the UK appreciated that Arab countries were taking the lead to challenge the Assad regime in Syria.

"It is clearly much more appropriate when a problem of this nature occurs in an Arab country for the Arab countries in the region to lead the response," he said. "Western countries can support them but it is important that the Arab League leads the response.

"To be honest, this is something we have not seen in the past."

Mr Hammond said action in Libya and with the Arab League were prevailing themes for the UAE over the past 12 months, representing a "higher level of responsibility for regional security than seen previously".

While military intervention in Syria by the West was currently not an option, he said the idea would not be disregarded.

"We made it clear that there should be a peaceful solution to the situation in Syria, that we need to maximise pressure on the regime to ensure a blood-free transition from the current Assad regime," he said.

"But we also made clear we will take nothing off the table. We will not rule out the possibility of any sort of action in the future but it will have to be legal."

Mr Hammond said a UN Security Council resolution was needed for military action to be legal, and the UK would continue to increase pressure on China and Russia to stop blocking it.

He said the economic sanctions on Syria were affecting its economy, but they also took a toll on the economies of those imposing the sanctions.

But this was a price that must be paid to bring the country out of a dangerous situation without military intervention, Mr Hammond said.

Sanctions on Iran were having the same effect, he said, and all the nation had to end them was communicate with the international community and find a solution to its nuclear programme.

"The combination of economic sanctions and financial sanctions, oil embargo, will have an impact on the Iranian economy and will make the Iranian people think about the cost of pursuing the illegal nuclear weapons programme," Mr Hammond said.

He said the West would not be fooled by Iran's efforts to buy time. "We prefer to see actions than words."

Mr Hammond warned Iran's threat to close the Strait of Hormuz would be illegal and unsuccessful.

"We have warships in the Gulf and will continue to have warships in the Gulf," he said.

"The message to Iranians must be clear: the international community will not tolerate any interference with the free passage of vessels in the Strait of Hormuz."

And if threats were to escalate, the UK would only "increase support to the UAE", Mr Hammond said.

osalem@thenational.ae