Review of the Anti-Iran Role Played by the UAE Ambassador to the US at the UNAI Meeting

Dalileh Rahimi Ashtiani
October 2018

Concurrent with the 73rd annual session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the anti-Iranian lobby organization known as the United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), held its meeting in the same city. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; US National Security Advisor John Bolton; former US senator, Joseph Lieberman, who currently heads the board of the UANI; Brian Hook, who heads the Iran Action Group; Adel al-Jubeir, the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia; and Yousef Al Otaiba, the current ambassador of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to the United State were among prominent participants and keynote speakers of that meeting.
In addition, there were other prominent anti-Iran figures present at the meeting, including Sheikh Abdullah bin Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa, Bahrain’s current ambassador to the United States; Bernard-Henri Lévy, the anti-Iran Jewish French philosopher and a mastermind of the independence referendum in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region; Khaled al-Yamani, the deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs of Yemen; and Mark D. Wallace, the UANI CEO and former US ambassador to the UN for management and reform. Among participants in the meeting and in terms of lobbying against Iran, perhaps nobody was as famous as Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE’s ambassador to the United States. During the meeting, Al Otaiba found an opportunity to level charges against Iran and mounted frequent attacks against the Islamic Republic of Iran in his speech.
The most important topics touched on by the UAE ambassador in the aforementioned meeting can be enumerated as follows:
-Firstly, the need to make an effort to bar further increase in Iran’s influence in Yemen and Syria and prevent these two countries from becoming another Lebanon or Iraq. To do this, Al Otaiba described Yemen as the most suitable geographical region to counter Iran’s regional power;
-Secondly, mounting attacks against Iran’s missile program and justification of the United States’ withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), to reduce Iran’s regional clout;
-Thirdly, to admit that the Persian Gulf littoral states have common interests with the Zionist regime of Israel, and making an effort by regional actors to fight off what he described as the threats posed by Iran;
-Fourthly, accusing Iran in the case of Yemen and highlighting Iran’s alleged role in the prolongation of the crisis in Yemen.
-At the end, Al Otaiba mentioned Iran’s influence in Yemen as the main reason why Ansarullah fighters did not take part in the Geneva meeting, which aimed to find a political solution to the country’s crisis.
The effort to attract the international public opinion to Iran is made under conditions that regional problems facing the countries taking part in the meeting have turned into an “antinarrative” against its sponsors. As a result of Saudi Arabia’s actions in Yemen and the UAE’s approach to regional crises, the meeting was marked with protests by human rights advocacy groups who bitterly criticized Al Otaiba and put pressure on him to be accountable with regard to the ongoing massacre of civilians in Yemen. The fact that the UAE ambassador to the United States has launched such a lobby against Iran is indicative of his effort to project a negative image of the Islamic Republic.
An analysis of the speech of the UAE ambassador to the United States and also attention to remarks made by other participants will make it clear that the goal of holding such an event has been first and foremost to counter Iran’s influence at regional level. Another goal is to forge a global consensus against Iran, though the meeting does not seem to have succeeded in achieving this goal. However, it must not be ignored that such measures are taken within a more expanded framework, which is to create an anti-Iran narrative and project a new image of Iran as a regional and global threat. Of course, the government of the United States has not been very successful in this regard so far, and the main reason is inability of the US government to build consensus against the Islamic Republic. The fact that the Trump’s US has been showing disregard for multilateral international treaties and agreements and also its inattention to the concept of “relative interests” and the interests of other actors, is another major factor, which has caused failure of such meetings. Of course, it must be admitted that holding of such meetings can help create a negative image of Iran in the long run.
What is the solution?
Iran’s emphasis on diplomacy can lead to finding of a political solution to the Yemeni crisis and reduction of tensions in the region. In this way, it would be able to thwart the efforts made by the United States and its allies to politicize the issue of Iran at international level. The importance of diplomacy in the current world is not a secret. Diplomacy is the way through which Tehran would be able to increase the cost and reduce the effect of Iranophobia. Iran’s legal triumph over the United States in the recent case of the lawsuit filed with the International Court of Justice was a good example, which must be taken into account by Iran’s foreign policy apparatus. On the other hand, Iran’s neutral position throughout the case related to the disappearance of the prominent Saudi critical journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, is another important example in this regard. Under these conditions, it would be advisable for Iran to remain committed to principles and norms of international law.
Iran, more than any time before, needs to promote the public diplomacy, both in its traditional way and through the modern networked methods at international and regional levels in order to thwart efforts made to politicize the Iran issue. In doing this, paying more attention to such regional actors as Oman, Kuwait, and Qatar, and using them as counterweight to the alliance that has taken shape against Iran, seems to be necessary. Other measures that can help defuse construction of a negative narrative around Iran include helping shape regional dialogues, improving trade exchanges with other regional countries and paying more attention to tourism industry.