Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am honored to address such a distinguished audience and sincerely thank the Emirates Policy Center and its President, Ebtesam Al Ketbi, for hosting me today.
I particularly commend them for the remarkable adaptability they have shown this year by translating this important event to an online format.
During last year’s Debate I said that in my view 2020 would be “decisive”. At the time, I did not imagine quite how challenging the year would become.
Whether we like it or not, 2020 has been defined by Covid-19.
But despite the very serious challenges, the UAE has continued to make progress on its positive agenda.
As we near the 50th anniversary of our country, we continue to do what we have always done over the last half century: to innovate, break new ground and prepare for the future.
It is striking to me that this year’s most important technological developments and the most significant political development in the Arab world, all occurred in the UAE.
Just in the last four months, we have:
launched the Emirates Hope Probe on its journey to Mars;
become the first Arab nation to start operating a peaceful nuclear power plant;
and agreed the Abraham Accords with Israel.
To add to those achievements, the region’s most exciting cultural event will also take place in the UAE – the first World Expo to be held in the Arab world.
Whilst we were not able to safely open the Dubai Expo this year, it will open on 1 October 2021.
And now it will serve an even more important function in bringing the world together after the pandemic. It will be a unique opportunity to collaborate on innovative solutions to the unprecedented challenges of our time.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The world has experienced global shocks in recent history, but I do not recall one in my lifetime that has lasted so long and has impacted so many aspects of our lives.
In its response to Covid-19 both at home and abroad, the UAE has tried to act in a way that is efficient, collaborative, compassionate, and guided by science.
Here in the UAE, we carry out more tests per capita than virtually any other country.
Our leadership recognized early on that widespread testing would provide the foundation for tracing and controlling the spread of the virus.
We have taken timely and proportionate steps to protect people’s health, as well as implemented measures to mitigate the negative economic impacts of the pandemic.
And in line with our values, the UAE has insisted on providing equal access to treatment to everyone affected, and supported residents and visitors who needed to return home.
Internationally, the UAE has been guided by collaborative and humanitarian principles.
We worked closely with international organisations such as the World Food Programme and the World Health Organisation, to make sure that vital medical supplies and aid could get to those most in need.
We provided medical supplies to a total of 118 countries, benefiting more than 1.5 million health workers around the world.
Our leadership has been in constant contact with counterparts around the world, offering them help wherever possible.
Importantly, they insisted that wider political considerations should not be taken into account when providing humanitarian assistance.
That is why the UAE did not hesitate to provide aid to Iran when it needed it. Our common humanity always comes first.
When the world starts to emerge from the pandemic, we will need to refocus our attention on long-standing challenges, some of which have been exacerbated by the crisis.
And as we do so, the UAE will be guided by its long-standing commitment to multilateralism, anti-extremism, respect for national sovereignty, peaceful resolution of conflict, good governance and sustainable development.
At the global level, we must refocus our attention on managing the evolution towards a new world order.
Despite seeing the return of great power politics, the UAE will work diligently to strengthen multilateralism and the rules-based order.
The pandemic highlighted that we are one international community and we need to work together to tackle common challenges.
It is the only effective way of addressing challenges such as economic and health crises, climate change, terrorism, poverty and recurring armed conflicts.
A multilateral approach is clearly in the interest of small states, but ultimately it is also in the interest of great powers: there can be no doubt that both the US and China have thrived under the international order of the last 75 years.
As a candidate for a non-permanent UN Security Council seat in 2022-23, the UAE plans to use the opportunity to contribute to reinforcing confidence in the multilateral system, exercising a principled approach rooted in the UN Charter.
We are realistic and will defend our interests, but we are committed to doing so in a way that is compatible with international norms, and wherever possible we will seek to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes and build cooperation between countries.
And at a regional level, we must revitalize efforts to establish a new paradigm of cooperation and friendship, geared towards a prosperous future for the region.
It is long overdue that countries in the region take an approach that promotes collaboration instead of confrontation, tolerance instead of extremism, and constructive pragmatism instead of ideology.
All countries in the region will emerge from the pandemic somewhat fatigued and less well off than before. This gives us yet another reason to deescalate conflict and tension and to focus efforts on serving the aspirations of our people.
This will require a renewed focus on good governance and sustainable development.
The pandemic has provided a stark demonstration of something we already knew: our most pressing challenge is to build Arab states that are accountable to their people and that possess the capacity to respond efficiently to their needs.
Those states that have managed to successfully care for their populations during the pandemic are those that have had well-functioning state institutions.
Achieving effective governance has never been more necessary.
More progressive, efficient states are also a prerequisite for the renewal of values that we hold dear, such as tolerance, women’s empowerment, and human rights.
For states to be able to function effectively, we must also reiterate the demand that countries should respect the national sovereignty of others.
Iran and Turkey have become increasingly aligned in the region in using foreign interference as a tool to advance their expansionist agendas.
Iranian arms continue to flow into Yemen and Iranian-backed militias persist in undermining the security of various Arab countries.
In Libya, Turkey has bolstered Islamist forces and increased the risk that mercenaries and radical militias exploit the security vacuum on the ground.
We cannot accept the destabilizing nature of their policies, but we do not seek confrontation.
The UAE always works with friends and allies, and encourages constructive dialogue and positive diplomatic engagement.
Bringing an end to this interference will also make it easier to achieve the peaceful resolution of conflicts in the region.
The UAE remains committed to working towards political solutions to conflicts.
In Yemen, we will maintain our support for the Arab Coalition in seeking a comprehensive ceasefire that paves the way towards a lasting political solution.
We also strongly support UN-led efforts in Libya and welcome the recent agreement on a permanent ceasefire, as well as the launch of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum.
The UAE has consistently supported the UN-led process for achieving a solution to the Libya conflict through peaceful dialogue.
At the same time, we must not allow extremists to disrupt progress towards peace and to undermine states as they seek to deliver better outcomes for their people.
We view with profound concern the recent atrocious violent acts in European cities.
We believe wholeheartedly that one must distinguish between the utilization of Islam as a political tool and Islam as a universal religion. Islam must not be tainted by extremism and violence anywhere in the world.
These extremist, transnational ideological movements do not represent Islam in any way. They fuel the use of violence in pursuit of political goals. They are a threat to all open and tolerant societies.
All of which brings me to the landmark achievement of the Abraham Accords.
The decision to establish diplomatic relations with the state of Israel was motivated by this commitment to shaping a new and better future for the region.
It was a sovereign national decision and was not targeted at any other country.
Instead, it was a decision born out of tolerance and openness, and a desire to reduce polarization in the region.
It was a decision born out of a desire for a much-needed strategic shift and a new pragmatic vision.
And it was a decision that required real courage from our leadership: maintaining the status quo was clearly the easier option, but it would not have offered better prospects for anyone.
This bold step was taken to bring hope to a region whose politics have too often been driven by stagnation, negativity and despair.
While 65 percent of the Arab world is under the age of 35, this rising generation aspires to look beyond current conflicts and past grievances.
This does not diminish in any way our concern about the plight of the Palestinian people. The UAE continues to see it as imperative that a just and comprehensive peace is reached.
But ultimately the Palestinians and Israelis are the ones who will need to decide on the shape of that peace.
The UAE stands ready to support that in any way it can. Indeed, we may be better positioned to do so now that we have formal relations with Israel.
The Abrahamic Accords are also a timely reminder and affirmation that US engagement and leadership remains irreplaceable in the Middle East.
They also reflect a bipartisan consensus in the US. The Accords were facilitated by President Trump’s administration and supported by the President-Elect, Joe Biden.
Both Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress praised the breakthrough.
So let me take this opportunity to echo the UAE leadership’s warm congratulations to the President-Elect as well as Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris.
Here in the UAE, we know the President-Elect well and look forward to working with the new Administration as we deepen the UAE-US relationship.
It is a relationship built on common interests, shared values and close partnership. It crosses parties and spans administrations.
So as we look ahead, I am confident that the UAE and the US will continue to see regional opportunities and challenges through a very similar lens.
Ladies and Gentleman,
This has without a doubt been a hard year for everyone. We mourn those who have been lost to the disease.
And it is clear that we still have some way to go before we see the back of the pandemic.
But by strengthening multilateral cooperation, providing humanitarian assistance, and working together to keep our economies moving, we can set a firm foundation for a robust recovery.
It is not by accident that the UAE has been able to respond with efficiency and compassion to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Nor is it by chance that we have managed to continue to deliver landmark achievements throughout the crisis.
It has happened because our leadership has patiently but persistently invested in the infrastructure, innovation and long-term planning that has made it possible, and because we as a people remain committed to building a better future for our region.
This is the approach that will continue to guide our actions as we emerge from the pandemic and that allows us to look forward with optimism and anticipation to the next 50 years of the UAE’s existence.
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