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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 March 2019

OIC meeting: Abu Dhabi Declaration calls for increased cooperation within Islamic world

Concluding declaration lists Palestine as a top priority

Officials prepare for the OIC Ministerial Meeting. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Officials prepare for the OIC Ministerial Meeting. Chris Whiteoak / The National

The 46th session of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC) concluded on Saturday after a two-day gathering dedicated to discussing ways to combat hate speech, extremism and conflict in the region.

The event ended with the announcement by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs, of the Abu Dhabi Declaration – an agreement to increase co-operation on key issues within the Islamic world. Atop the 50-point statement, was Palestine.

The issue of Palestine, states the declaration, is central to both Arab and Muslim nations. The document goes on to condemn Israeli violations and their occupation of East Jerusalem, which US President Donald Trump formally recognised as the capital of Israel in December 2017.

On Saturday the foreign ministers of the OIC states called for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in accordance to the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

“This organisation was established from day one to support the Palestinian issue, and we are dedicated to the cause,” said Sheikh Abdullah, the chair of the meeting.

His statement came shortly after Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met White House adviser Jared Kushner to discuss Mr Trump’s Middle East peace plan – which Palestine has all but rejected.

Mr Kushner was on a six-day tour of the region in a bid to garner support for the proposal, which has yet to be made public.

Despite widespread scepticism on behalf of the Palestinians, the UAE's Sheikh Abdullah said he could not react to the plan before having reviewed it.

“I don’t believe that we are now in the position to answer, we have not seen the offer,” Sheikh Abdullah said on Sunday. “Let us see it, then we can respond on whether to agree or disagree...we are taking a premature action against an imaginary offer...I don’t think that’s suitable.”

While topics like Palestine drew seemingly unanimous support from OIC members, other issues fuelled objections.

The attention of the room turned to the Iranian representative when he raucously tapped the table with his country name-card and raised his hand. Sheikh Abdullah, who was in the midst of his closing statement, responded by saying that interventions were not part of the agenda.

While the cause of the outburst remains unconfirmed, it may have been in reaction to one of the points in the declaration, which calls on Iran to respond positively to the UAE's request to "reach a peaceful solution which ends the Iranian occupation of the three Emirati islands.”

For over four decades, Iran and the UAE have been embroiled in a territorial dispute over Iran’s occupation of Abu Musa and the Great and Lesser Tunbs – a group of islands located between the two countries.

Sheikh Abdullah also raised the issue of Iran's meddling in internal affairs of the region and called on the Islamic republic to reassess its policies.

“The continued Iranian interference in the domestic affairs is jeopardising the peace and creating more sectarian strife in the region,’ he said.

In light of the recent escalation of tension between Pakistan and India, the Abu Dhabi statement welcomed Prime Minister Imran Khan’s move to hand over an Indian pilot captured in Kashmir earlier this week as "a gesture of goodwill to de-escalate tensions in the region”.

Pakistan, however, boycotted the meeting in Abu Dhabi over the OIC’s decision to welcome India as a guest of honour.

Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj speaks to Adel Al Jubeir, Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister at an OIC ministerial meeting in Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj speaks to Adel Al Jubeir, Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister at an OIC ministerial meeting in Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National

While not a predominantly Muslim country, India took part in several talks during the two-day conference. The country's Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj on Friday spoke out against “states who provide shelter and funding to terrorists” in what some construed as a veiled criticism of neighbouring Pakistan, which New Delhi accuses of hosting terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed.

“I think the OIC has sent a very clear and positive sign [it] appreciates the relationship with India and looks forward to strengthening that relationship to the point of embracing India one day in OIC," Ms Swaraj said. "I know we are not there yet, for obvious reasons, but having India as a guest of honour was a historic moment."

The Afghan ambassador to the UAE also touched on the recent events in Kashmir. Abdul Farid Zikria called claims by Pakistan and the Taliban that Afghan peace talks will be affected by violence in Kashmir “questionable” and “puzzling".

He said both Pakistan's ambassador to Afghanistan and Taliban officials recently questioned whether peace talks would survive the most recent skirmish between Pakistan and India. The two matters, he concluded, were not connected.

“To me, it was puzzling. I don’t know why the conflict between Pakistan and India should affect us," he said on Sunday. "If Pakistan really wants peace in Afghanistan, why does that have to be affected by what’s going on in India, I do not see the parallel.”

According to the ambassador, the Taliban mirrors Pakistan's line because "they’re mostly based in Pakistan, that’s why they have to reflect the same statement that came out of Pakistan state officials”.

As we always say, the sky's the limit.

Sheikh Shakhbout bin Nahyan Al Nahyan

Far from the conflicts that more often than not engulf the region, the UAE ambassador to Saudi Arabia praised the friendship between the two states.

Sheikh Shakhbout Al Nahyan said "the sky is the limit" when it comes to his country’s relationship with the neighbouring Kingdom.

“As we always say, the sky's the limit," he told The National.

"We have no limits in our relationship...the Saudi-Emirati Coordination Council has many initiatives and programmes in place to take the relationship to a different level,” he said, in reference to a bilateral diplomatic agreement that has seen both countries work closely to enhance co-operation on regional and global issues.

Updated: March 3, 2019 01:20 PM

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