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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Sheikh Abdullah says Turkey among the nations posing a threat to Arab states

UAE and Egypt voice common concerns during foreign minister's visit to Cairo

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi meets Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, and his delegation at the Presidential Palace in Cairo on March 18, 2018. Egyptian Presidency handout / AFP
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi meets Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, and his delegation at the Presidential Palace in Cairo on March 18, 2018. Egyptian Presidency handout / AFP

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed on Sunday cited Turkey alongside Iran and Israel as countries posing challenges to Arab states, as the UAE and Egypt underlined the importance of ongoing co-ordination between Abu Dhabi, Cairo and Riyadh in dealing with Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and extremism.

“The challenges we face are not only from our Arab countries but also from non-Arabs in our region,” the Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation said in Cairo, after talks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi and his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry.

“Whether from Iran, Turkey or Israel – attacking Arab lands, Arab interests and interfering in Arab affairs is what we are working to face resolutely.”

Sheikh Abdullah's comments came as Turkish forces seized the city of Afrin in north-west Syria. The UAE and Egypt have both criticised Turkey’s military offensive in the Kurdish-controlled Afrin region as a threat to the sovereignty of an Arab state.

“There will be no solution in Syria for any party that wants to resolve the matter militarily,” Sheikh Abdullah said. “The country’s future must be left to the Syrians, and all the militias that entered Syria supported by other parties or countries, which eventually led to Iranian and Turkish interventions in Syria, need to leave.”

Tensions are already high with Ankara over its role in helping Qatar to circumvent the boycott imposed by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt, all of whom assert that Doha continues to back destabilising forces across the region.

“If Qatar wants to change its approach, I am sure we would all welcome its return to Arab ranks,” Sheikh Abdullah said. But, he added, "if Qatar wants to continue this approach, I do not think any of us [in the quartet] would want to the change policy we’ve agreed on.

"The relationship between Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia is growing stronger. And Qatar does not take much place in our discussions."

The arms supply by Turkey and Qatar to Libyan militia groups is another regional concern shared by the UAE and Egypt.

At their joint press conference, Mr Shoukry thanked Sheikh Abdullah for the UAE's support to the Egyptian position on Libya, where turmoil after the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi allowed extremist groups such as ISIL to take root. Egypt last month launched a campaign against ISIL-affiliated militants in the Sinai Peninsula.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, was the guest of honour at the opening in July of the Mohamed Naguib Military Base, the newest and largest barracks and training ground for Egypt’s armed forces. Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army, was also present.

"It is important to unite all elements and ranks of the Libyan army and reach an understanding for unification plans through the conventional military structures,” Mr Shoukry said. “This approach is the way to provide Libya security, [win] the fight against terrorism" and put Libya on the path to elections under a UN process, he said.

Both ministers addressed the escalation of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and the setbacks to the Cairo-brokered Fatah-Hamas reconciliation deal after the bombing of the Palestinian Authority prime minister's convoy last week during a visit to Gaza.

“The UAE condemns in the strongest terms the attempt to attack the PA prime minister, but at the same time this will not prevent us from continuing our efforts and support for our brothers and sisters in Gaza,” Sheikh Abdullah said. “Palestinian reconciliation must get back on track and we must pay tribute to the role of the Egyptians in trying to make this happen.”

Sheikh Abdullah's visit was preceded by a meeting on Saturday of the UAE-Egypt Economic Committee headed by Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansouri, Minister of Economy, and Egyptian Trade Minister Tarek Kabil.

A wave of Emirati investment in Egypt has been announced in recent weeks, particularly in the energy sector.

UAE’s Masdar and Elsewedy Electric are in talks with the Egyptian government for final approval of a US$900 million (Dh3,305m) development of two wind farms.

Mubadala Petroleum, the wholly owned subsidiary of Abu Dhabi investment vehicle Mubadala, has entered negotiations with Italy’s Eni to buy a 10 per cent stake in the Shorouk concession, part of Egypt's giant Zohr gas field, with a price tag of $934m.

And the Emirati firm Dana Gas has announced plans to start drilling operations on the first well in its Mediterranean concession in Egyptian waters.

Ali Hallal Dessouki, a professor of political science at Cairo University, said the ties between the UAE and Egypt were based on mutual interest.

“Both of these countries perceive the other as very important,” said Ali Hillal Dessouki, professor of political science at Cairo University. “It’s not just a matter of charity. From a geostrategic point of view, both nations need allies that are not necessarily a neighbour, who has no ambitions or intentions regarding the other.”

Meanwhile, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Gargash said on Sunday that the stance taken against Qatar was justified by evidence that Doha gave money to terrorist organisations.

“The New York Times article, and months before that, the Financial Times article on Qatar paying a ransom to the Popular Mobilisation Units, Al Nusra and other terrorist groups, solidify the procedures taken against extremism and terrorism and show that these are the issues at the core of the crisis,” Dr Gargash said on Twitter.

“From $700 million to $1 billion that the Qatari government paid to terrorist groups, including Hezbollah, the Popular Mobilisation Units and Al Nusra, it is impossible for Doha to deny [it happened] in light of the accumulating evidence. Supporting extremism and terrorism is the problem.”

The four countries boycotting Qatar stand firm by their decision, saying they are willing to re-establish communications with Doha only if it adheres to regional and international agreements and the demands and principles they have issued.

Doha has so far refused to meet the quartet’s 13 demands – including the closure of Qatar-owned Al Jazeera news channel, which the quartet says provides a platform for extremists and dissidents.