We know region better than West: Shaikh Abdullah

Filed on November 24, 2014
We know region better than West: Shaikh Abdullah

In an interview with Bret Baier of Fox News UAE Foreign Minister warns about the need for more attention to be paid to the situation in Libya.

In a wide-ranging interview with Bret Baier of Fox News, Shaikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Foreign Minister, reaffirmed the country’s opposition to ISIS; expressed concern about the outcome of talks with Iran on the nuclear issue; and warned about the need for more attention to be paid to the situation in Libya. The Western powers, he said, need to recognise that the countries of the Middle East understand the region better than outsiders.

Asked about the UAE’s efforts against ISIS, he responded, “They are trying to hijack our religion; it’s not about them not liking other religions ... they don’t like our religion; they don’t like the way we practice our Islam.

They would like to force their interpretation of Islam on our values, our countries, our families.

Full text of the interview:

Bret Baier: Is there enough being done to fight ISIS?

Shaikh Abdullah: We cannot get rid of ISIS if the situation in Syria is not dealt with in the appropriate fashion ... (It) ... is a tragedy seeing over 200,000 Syrians slaughtered, and almost 10 million Syrians either refugees or displaced.

You’re taking a leadership role in the fight against terrorism. You recently came out with a list of terrorist organisations. Two of them raised some eyebrows, as you can imagine, in Washington, the Council of American-Islamic Relations and the Muslim-American Society. Why did you do that?

Our threshold is quite low when we talk about extremism. We cannot accept incitement or funding when we look at some of these organisations. For many countries, the definition of terror is that you have to carry a weapon and terrorise people. For us, it’s much beyond that; we cannot tolerate even the smallest, tiniest amount of terrorism.

So you have a zero tolerance on terrorism, on extremism, but do you think that the US is even as tough as you all are on some of these groups?

You should ask them.

You worked alongside Egypt to launch strikes against extremist groups in Libya, and that took a lot of people by surprise in Washington.

We believe ... (that) the countries who played a role in getting rid of Gaddafi, first of all, should have played a far bigger role the day after. They haven’t. But, today they have a huge responsibility in getting Libya on the right (track) ... Libya could be a huge ticking bomb for the region.

Do you think the US dropped the ball there?

I don’t want to mention one country or the other, but the entire coalition had a bigger responsibility, which it unfortunately didn’t live up to.

Let me talk to you about Iran, your neighbour just across the Gulf. Now, coming to a head on Monday (is) this nuclear deal. What are your thoughts, concerns about that deal?

The question that we in the region will ask — more than what the deal contains or not — is what Iran’s role is going to be the day after.

We wake up on Tuesday morning and everyone, and I mean most of us, will ask the question, ‘what is Iran going to get out of it, not on the nuclear front but on the regional front’? We would wish obviously that such a deal would look very much like what we have in the UAE, where we have no nuclear enrichment, no reprocessing, but obviously that’s far from what’s going to happen.

Have you seen how the US plays [actions] in this region, how it’s perceived in this region, (has) changed, and if so, how?

I think we have to move away from a period where Brussels, Washington, London and Paris think that they know the region better than the people of the region. And I think that is our biggest challenge.

James Mattis, former CentCom (the US military Central Command) commander, said this about the UAE, “Their biggest concern isn’t Iran, it’s American disengagement” ... (Is that) fair?

No, it’s not fair ... We have challenges of extremism, radicalism, fascism. And we have social ... economic ... (and) political challenges ... It just looks to me that the West are historical partners, either preoccupied with their internal matters or they’re a bit too sore with their efforts in the region. I don’t think that they’ve given up but I think they’re in a ‘shield room’ or a ‘glass room’, in which they think that their interpretation of the region is the right one.

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