Thank you, Danny, and thank you to the U.S.-U.A.E. Business Council and the American Chamber of Commerce in Abu Dhabi for this opportunity to discuss the U.S.-U.A.E. relationship and U.S. foreign policy priorities in the region. I want to congratulate and thank those of you visiting Washington on a U.A.E. corporate ‘door knock’ on Capitol Hill. Politics, like business, requires building relationships – and your messages about job creation and bring a great deal of credibility to the argument for U.S. overseas engagement.
The United States has had close relations with the United Arab Emirates throughout its national history. President Khalifa bin Zayed and the Emerati government are well known for their tolerant views; for their vision of an economically successful, modernized federation that is a reliable partner for the United States; and for their many humanitarian and philanthropic contributions.
The U.A.E’s views are regularly and effectively communicated to the United States by Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed and his brother Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed – in fact they met with the President and the Secretary in Europe on Tuesday. Secretary Kerry has been to the U.A.E. three times in the past year. I’m willing to bet he’s talked to Foreign Minister bin Zayed every day this week.
There is a reason for this vigorous diplomatic engagement: we face a number of critical national security challenges in the Middle East – and we believe that regional leaders need to help address them.
Defense cooperation is a central pillar of our strategic partnership. U.A.E. ports are important for U.S. naval operations in the Gulf region, providing the only deep harbors in the Persian Gulf accessible to U.S. aircraft carriers.
The U.A.E. is one of our largest Foreign Military Sales cash customers. It purchases equipment from nearly every major U.S. defense contractor, including Hawk and Patriot missiles, Apache and Blackhawk helicopters, C-17s, C-130s, advanced F-16s, Maverick missiles and other equipment.
Let me stress that the United States is deeply committed to the security of our friends in the Gulf – and we continue to back that commitment up with 35,000 troops stationed there.
Business and Trade Partner
The United States has trade and investment agreements or frameworks with the U.A.E. and other Gulf Cooperation Council member countries. These agreements underscore the importance of business partnerships in the region. I was struck by just how intensive that engagement has become in recent years: I was recently told there are 75 daily nonstop flights between nine different U.S. cities and the U.A.E., with more air links scheduled for the future. Over 1,000 American companies are conducting profitable business in sectors like oil and gas, defense, services, education, nuclear energy and healthcare.
We continue to strongly promote bilateral and regional trade: Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker recently conducted a successful trade mission to the Gulf with 21 companies identify export opportunities in infrastructure, engineering, renewable energy, smart grids, and environmental technologies.
American exports to the U.A.E. have more than doubled in the last four years; we are seeing annual trade surpluses of about $22 billion, per year with total bilateral trade estimated at $27 billion. At the Dubai Air Show last year, three Emirati airlines purchased $140 billion of Boeing aircraft, with GE engines.
Close relations with the U.S. has spurred the U.A.E. to build new branches of U.S. universities, such as New York University and New York Institute of Technology; leading hospitals and clinics, such as the Cleveland Clinic; and a new branch of the Guggenheim Museum. These are all expressions of the country’s confidence and openness to the larger world.
But Also Partners in Dialogue
Most of the above just reflects what you already know: the U.S. and the U.A.E. are working closely together – and we share many interests and values. We are reliable allies and good business partners. But, to be frank, we also have some important work to do:
GCC: The United States is expanding our regional engagement with the GCC as a forum to promote increased economic, trade, cultural, environmental, and humanitarian cooperation. But our current challenge is to help strengthen coordination among the GCC members themselves so that the organization can serve as a tool for managing regional security issues. Greater coordination among the GCC countries could help resolve critical issues that touch upon the strategic interests of the United States:
Iran: The United States and GCC members are in regular and active discussions as we continue to work to reach a verifiable resolution preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism and actively promotes instability in Gulf countries -- an obvious threat to GCC member countries. We clearly understand that GCC members have a vital interest in the outcome of any negotiations with Iran.
For the first time in nearly a decade, we have seen Iran enact measures to halt progress on its nuclear program and to roll back the program in key respects. They have done this in exchange for limited and temporary sanctions relief. The P5+1 group of countries (the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany) and Iran are currently engaged in negotiations about the future. Technical experts are involved in the discussions so that we can provide a very transparent picture to our Gulf allies and to the many countries concerned about the matter.
The negotiations will continue on April 7, but the President has been clear that prospects for a successful outcome are uncertain. However reassuring our friends and allies that we stand clearly with them is a high priority for the President and a key feature of his trip to Saudi Arabia this week.
Syria: The Syrian civil war has been going on for three years. The Gulf states have no illusions about the Asad regime and share our view that Bashar al-Asad cannot be part of Syria’s political future, but disagree on the way forward. GCC nations have contributed to humanitarian appeals for Syrian refugees; the U.S., however, is the largest single donor, contributing $1.7 billion.
The civil war in Syria has become a magnet for violent extremist fighters, many of whom come from GCC countries or receive funding from GCC countries, including from private individuals. These fighters seek to create a terrorist safe haven in Syria. They also threaten Iraq -- and could well represent a very real future threat to the Gulf countries. The Gulf states need to unite to help shut off extremist fighters and financing – and to provide clear political and financial backing for Syria’s future as a stable, moderate nation, free at last from the Asad regime.
Egypt: The United States has enormous strategic interests at stake in Egypt’s transition and its stability. Egypt is the largest Arab country and a bellweather for the region. We support Egyptian aspirations to have an elected government that respects universal rights and helps them address their economic challenges. But Egypt, too, has been through three tumultuous years.
Our Gulf partners have been generous to Egypt in recent years – but the tensions between GCC members have also complicated Egypt’s political and economic landscape. As Egypt moves forward with electing a new government, it will desperately need to undertake economic reforms. Friends in the Gulf have helped cushion the impact of Egypt’s economic situation, but, again, it is very important that they use their influence to encourage reforms will help Egypt reignite economic growth. The absence of jobs and opportunities for Egypt’s young men has been a major cause of instability in recent years.
Middle East Peace: Finally, you are all aware that Secretary Kerry is working very hard to bring about an agreement on a framework for the final status negotiations to bring about Middle East peace. This is very hard work for the United States – and has required tough choices for both the Israelis and Palestinians.
The Gulf leaders have provided significant political and economic support for this effort, particularly in holding out as incentive to Israel the possibility of peace and economic relations with 57 Muslim and Arab nations.
The United States is deeply engaged in the Middle East, from security cooperation in a complicated and dangerous region; to promoting trade and investment; to helping countries in transition; to ensuring stability for the world’s energy supply. As a result, our diplomatic agenda with the U.A.E. and other Gulf nations is very full. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and questions. Thank you.