x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Full sprint in diplomacy marathon

From the UAE's Foreign Minister to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, politicians and diplomats are racing around the UN to discuss world issues.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad answers questions at a news conference during the 63rd United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York, Sept 23 2008.
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad answers questions at a news conference during the 63rd United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York, Sept 23 2008.

UNITED NATIONS // From breakfast bilateral meetings and luncheon treaty signings to late-night receptions, the annual convergence of world leaders on United Nations headquarters forces delegates into a gruelling diplomacy marathon. The UAE's man in Manhattan this week, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, has already struck up diplomatic relations with landlocked Andorra as he engages in round-the-clock flesh-pressing at the global talking-shop.

Tuesday's signing of an agreement to establish diplomatic relations with the tiny European ski-resort nation on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly summit represented just a single item on Sheikh Abdullah's protracted agenda. "The meeting was extremely cordial, and we look forward to strengthening diplomatic and economic relations with the United Arab Emirates," said Andreu Jordi-Tomas, the first secretary of Andorra's mission to the UN.

But Sheikh Abdullah's signing ceremony with his Andorran counterpart, Mertixell Mateau, was small fry compared with his meetings with Tony Blair, the Middle East peace envoy, and the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. Anwar al Barout, chargé d'affaires of the UAE's mission to the UN, said the minister's agenda continued in the Government's established trajectory of political priorities. "It's the same issues, looking at the Middle East peace process, the Annapolis framework and the situation in Iraq and Lebanon," he told The National yesterday.

The UAE backs Saudi Arabia's request for high-level talks in the Security Council this week to address Israeli settlement construction on Palestinian soil - a letter issued as Sheikh Abdullah sat down with the Kingdom's foreign minister, Prince Saud Al Faisal, and other GCC ministers for a strategy pow wow. A draft resolution calling for the 15-nation body to condemn Israeli settlement construction is on the agenda of an Arab League meeting to be attended by the group's secretary general, Amr Mousa.

Between major meetings, Abu Dhabi's envoy is darting between hotels in New York skyscrapers, "engaging in bilateral meetings to enhance diplomatic and trade relations with countries across Asia, Africa and Latin America", Mr Barout said. Countries on the diverse schedule range from Gabon and Vietnam to Sierra Leone. Sheikh Abdullah joined Mr Blair, Britain's former prime minister, at a fund-raising meeting for Palestinians, and explained how the construction of Sheikh Khalifa City and other pledges have contributed to the US$1.36 billion (Dh5bn) in assistance already received.

His speech before the General Assembly on Saturday morning is expected to address foreign policy concerns and assert sovereignty claims over the Gulf islands of Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunb, which the Government claims Iran has occupied since 1971. But it is Sheikh Abdullah's bell-ringing ceremony at the Nasdaq stock exchange tomorrow, in which the minister will signal a close to the day's trading, that really highlights the dominant issue overshadowing events in midtown Manhattan.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN's secretary general, had hoped to focus General Assembly debate this year on global poverty, but economic turmoil has been at the front of every envoy's mind. George W Bush was believed to have added last-minute references to the credit crunch to his speech on Tuesday in response to widespread concerns across the international community about market crashes. In his eighth and final address to the assembly, the US president said he was confident a $700bn rescue for Wall Street would be enacted in the "urgent time frame required".

But, ratcheting up tensions between the United States and Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, this week blamed the credit crunch on US military overspending in Iraq and other wars. Mr Ahmadinejad said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times the "US government has made a series of mistakes in the past few decades" including "the imposition on the US economy of heavy military engagement".

"The world economy can no longer tolerate the budgetary deficit and the financial pressures occurring from markets here in the United States," he said. The United States came under attack from friends and foes alike, with the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, taking US financial executives to task and calling for a global summit on the crisis. Mr Sarkozy, whose country currently holds the European Union's rotating presidency, called for a G8 summit in November to deal with the "mad system" that produced the meltdown.

He told reporters the summit should establish "principles and new rules" to regulate markets, punish those who "jeopardise people's savings" and rein in executive salaries that reward success without penalising failure. "It is the duty of the heads of state and government of the countries most directly concerned to meet before the end of the year to examine together lessons of the most serious financial crisis the world has experienced since that of the 1930s," Mr Sarkozy said.

Mr Ban has already expressed concern that financial turmoil would both overshadow and undermine global efforts to achieve a set of poverty-reduction targets, the Millennium Development Goals, by 2015. As fiscal belt-tightening compels traditional donors such as the United States, Japan and EU members to renege on aid commitments, UN officials are turning to the sovereign wealth funds of emerging regions, including the Gulf, for a much-needed cash injection.

The World Bank estimates that just one per cent of the $3 trillion stored in such state-owned cash reserves would represent $30bn of windfall investment that could benefit the world's poorest people. Reem al Hashimi, UAE minister of state and chairwoman of Dubai Cares, was supposed to be flying to New York for a poverty round-table meeting this morning, although it remains unclear whether any significant aid pledges are in the offing.

Mr Ban said he wanted to be "at a very different place" in poverty-reduction funding when the majority of statesmen pack their bags and jet off this weekend. Despite the entourages of 192 countries rushing through the corridors for the next summit, seminar or cocktail reception, it remains to be seen whether the world is a significantly different place when United Nations headquarters returns to normal next week.