Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, United Arab Emirates
Special Lecturer and James T. Shotwell Professor Emerita of International Relations, Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs; Former President, American University in Cairo; CFR Member
Dr. Gargash discusses the Abraham Accords, regional relations, and the future of Middle East peace.
ANDERSON: Thank you very much. It is a delight to be with all of you virtually, and particularly, of course, with our speaker today, Dr. Anwar Gargash, the minister of state for foreign affairs of the United Arab Emirates. I'm Lisa Anderson—I'll be presiding. I am a professor at Columbia. We have more than two hundred members registered for this event. So, we will try and do our best to get to as many questions as possible during the question and answer period, and of course, I'll try and anticipate all of your questions as I talk briefly with the minister. All of you know who he is so I won't spend a lot of time introducing him. He's been a member of the Federal Cabinet of the UAE for quite a long time, since 2006. In fact, he was involved in Federal National Council affairs and oversaw the UAE's first elections which took place then, and the subsequent elections in 2011 and 2015. He's previously served in a number of senior positions in both the state and federal government of the UAE. And he started his career, I have to point this out, as a professor. And so, I am particularly delighted to be able to talk to him professor to professor. It is a delight to be able to be with you, Dr. Gargash, even virtually, and there is a lot to talk about, as you know, you must have been awfully busy recently. The big news, and let's start with this, is obviously the normalization with Israel. When you've had ample opportunity actually to talk about this in a number of forums, it is a quite remarkable step, clearly reshaping the politics of the region, even if in some ways it formalizes informal relations that had been in process for quite a long time. Most of the coverage here in the States, at least, has been about what was achieved and how it came to be for Israel, for the UAE. But all ends are also beginnings. So, I thought I might ask you to think a little bit about what you think this kicks off that, you know, what are the—what's the prospects now that you've formalized these relations? What's next? Your government has described this as a historic step toward the reviving of the peace process in the Middle East. What plans do you have to facilitate that? What other kinds of things do you think this is going to represent when we look back, say five years from now?
GARGASH: Well again, thank you very much. And, you know, it's always a pleasure to speak at CFR, virtually this year. Although I enjoy the, you know, the sort of room, that atmospheric room at CFR, but let's do with this. I think this is a good question—what are we seeing? And I'm like, sort of, trying to organize my thoughts. And I want to really look at it at three levels. I think on the first level, on the bilateral relations with Israel, I think on the bilateral relations, we know that we want to have a very good if not excellent relationship between the UAE and Israel. We want this relationship to be, as I mentioned before, a world peace, a relationship that's not only in the political domain, but a relationship that actually goes beyond the political domain—one with investment, one with technology, one with tourism, culture, trade, etcetera. I think this is important for different reasons and at more than one level.
I think, number one, it's about time. And I think looking towards the future, it is important that two of the most dynamic economies in the region can actually work together, the UAE's economy is slightly larger than Israel's economy. Israel has areas of excellence that we think we can work together and invest in and so on and so forth. I think tourism will be another area of growth for both countries. But on the bilateral plane, I think it also defines who we are. It's not only about business deals, and transactions, and so on. For us, I think it is important to try and sort of present a different narrative in the region. The region has been locked in a narrative of heat; it's been locked in a narrative of religious extremism for too long. I think we can have our differences, and we can have our issues and the political claim. But these issues and narratives should not demonize one another—Arabs to Israelis and Israelis to Arabs, Muslims to Jews and Jews to Muslims. So, I speak that, on the bilateral plane, Israel has an opportunity to establish a relationship with an Arab country, a dynamic economy that has no borders with Israel, that has not fought a war with Israel, and has no other complicated issues that enmesh relations between countries that are next to each other. But I also urge the Israelis to think strategically, to look at this relationship as a relationship that shows what we can do together, and that in itself, will cascade and spill over to break old perceptions on both sides, in my opinion. That's on the bilateral level.
On the Arab-Israeli or Palestinian-Israeli peace, angle or level, I feel that, you know, what brought this relationship and what made the deal much faster, in my opinion, we would have had relations with Israel in 2021 or 2022. But what sort of brought everything forward was this opportunity at suspending the annexation of Palestinian lands. I think this was very much a threat to any hopes of a two-state solution. And, I think, while it doesn't give the two-state solution a carte blanche, it gives it a respite. And I think we need to use that respite and urge the Israelis and the Palestinians to sit together and to compromise. The history of the region is very much a history of two things: lost opportunities and facts on the grounds limiting political options. And, I think, by doing that, we are able to help here. Again, when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian issue, we're not the main show. We are not the main show. The main show is the Israelis and Palestinians. They will decide really, what sort of solution they will agree to. What we need to help urge them on and we need to break a lot of the cul-de-sacs that define themselves. So, I think on that level, this is essential. And I would say that after the current period of sulking that the Palestinians are going through, they will recognize that we will be able to help more, because we are able to communicate with Israel, we will have created some reservoir of goodwill, we would have created channels of communication. And I reflect freely and ask myself, what are the two most Arab countries that are effective in helping the Palestinians today. And they are, a no surprise, Egypt and Jordan because they have relations with Israel. So, clearly, I think this is essential. If you have relations, you are bound to create leverage, you're bound to create confidence, you're bound to create networks, people are willing to listen and trust interest in your advice. And, I think, that is on the second level.
I think on the third level, I find this as a very strategic breakthrough. The region is mired in sort of spill waters, and I think it is essential for some sort of breakthrough. And I think the idea here is that, you know, where the region, if you think of it from an American audience perspective, the region has only had bad news in the last twenty years—Afghanistan and Iraq—and I don't know what. So, we're also bringing some good news here and saying that the region is capable of surprising itself. And here, I would really, you know, pay tribute to Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed on our part. He is somebody who recognizes that, you know, we have to break molds and if these molds don't work. And he, you know, he's is very thoughtful, he will think things over and over and over again. But he's determined that when the time is right, we need to make that. I think what made the time right, this time, is the American mediator, who brought the news that the Israelis are willing to look at a suspension of annexation if they can have a normalization of relations. So suddenly, when that message came through, through our ambassador in Washington, Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed ordered a task force, which I was part of, to start moving straight and seizing the opportunity. And he mulled over, thought about it. And, you know, if you wait in the Middle East for the right moment, then you will wait forever.
ANDERSON: Thank you very much. That was very comprehensive view and I'm sure there's going to be more questions about this. I could follow up, but I actually think—I'd like to turn to a few other regional issues that you find yourselves in. So, let me start with something I think you can probably dispatch pretty quickly, and then I'll get to some things that are a little bit more complicated, perhaps. But the UAE has been involved in a variety of regional conflicts, notably in Yemen and Libya, that are pretty far afield from you, again, a place you don't have borders with and so forth. What are the prospects for those conflicts? What's the rationale of your involvement and what would you like to see?
GARGASH: Again, I think this is a very important question, Lisa. I think it's what is our readout of the international system. I think this is the sort of reason why would the country like ours, not stay in a default, oil rich country and say, you know, I have no inclination to play any role and just enjoy and reap, you know, the benefits of a rentier economy? You know, why wouldn't I? Because I think the international system and our assessment is changing. And if you don't share burden, you can't ensure your security. I think that is basically the issue here. So, our early involvement came in Afghanistan, and it was unusual for the UAE. We were asked to get involved, because if we were not there against the whole Al Qaeda and Taliban grouping, it would have looked like a Christian access against the Muslims of Afghanistan. And I think the reading here was, Al Qaeda and Taliban do not represent Muslims. And if we agreed that it represents Muslims, then we are in deep trouble already. So, for ten years, we were involved there with boots on the ground with a lot of our young kids there on the ground. I think it was to emphasize that point, that the fight against extremism and terrorism is a universal fight. But on the other hand, also to emphasize, that in this changing international system, if you don't fend for yourself, and if you're not able to play a role in defending your own regional stability and security, the ship of the international system is changing. The idea that we can have a massive American, you know, operation such as the one that liberated Kuwait from the Iraqi invasion, and that this will be repeated if any of our countries were in peril. I think this is something that we understood very clearly, that this was something that will not really be sort of copied again, or the moment will not be, and you couldn't really risk that. So, as a result I think the UAE's rationale behind that was that regional countries have to add value, not only to international efforts at stabilization of Afghanistan, Kosovo, ISIS, [inaudible] in Libya, but also, if you expect these regional, the superpowers to help you, you have to be burden-sharing, and burden-sharing is no longer writing a check for the cost of an operation. You actually have to have the capability and the political will to do that. So, that is basically the sort of conceptual rationalization of this.
Now if we come to Yemen—Yemen was a very complicated war and a very difficult and vicious one with clear humanitarian losses there. But, I think, it was also reflective of other wars in the region. It wasn't Yemen was like that, and Iraq was a very clean strike or Afghanistan was. I think this is the sort of modern war that we see. And that tells us that we need to use war as a tool of foreign policy less and less, because wars are no longer the way that they are depicted as heroic, or that they are clean-cut, or are an ultimate resolution of conflict. So, from that perspective, I think Yemen was very similar to Iraq and Afghanistan, of course, different narratives, etcetera. But you have the same similar complication and human suffering and instability after the war. It doesn't mean that the war is really achieved all its goals. But we were really put in a corner. When the Houthi militias, supported by Iran, overtook the government in Yemen, it was damned if you did, and damned if you didn't. And, you know, we took a decision that nobody's going to intervene while Iran would be able to create another Hezbollah right on our borders. And you know, it was a very bloody war, you had a lot of twists and turns. When we are currently in Yemen is very interesting. We are now in a position where the only obstacles to a comprehensive ceasefire and the negotiating table is the Yemenis themselves. All the international players and the regional players are very convinced that there is no more to gain from this war. But I think what is happening right now, is you do have the local parties trying to gain that extra yard, so to speak, and unfortunately, this is very shortsighted. The Houthis are trying to gain merit, the government is not willing to accept, you know, the UN approach on opening certain things, for example, or the Riyadh Agreement in including also the southerners and creating a more inclusive cabinet and so forth. So, really right now the onus is on the Yemeni parties because the regional and international players are intent on ending this. It's the Yemeni parties who need to drink the water now that they are next to the, you know, to whatever it is—the waterfall.
ANDERSON: And Libya?
GARGASH: And Libya, I think in Libya, we have some better signs in Libya. I mean, Libya, again, some people say why is a country like the UAE involved in Libya thousands of kilometers away? I want to remind everybody that we were urged by the Europeans and the United States and others to join the NATO coalition and Libya. So, you can't urge us when you want to, and say why are you there when you don't want to? You know, countries don't work with red and green buttons—push me green and I'm there and push me red and I'm not. So, there is a legacy issue for us.
GARGASH: There is a legacy issue for us in Libya. And I don't really want to go into that except to say, right now, I'm seeing some hopeful signs, early hopeful signs. The ceasefire seems to be holding, and we need to turn it into a comprehensive ceasefire. The recent agreement or tentative agreements by the Libyans in Morocco and in Geneva, are quite encouraging. The Berlin Process seems to be there. But we've been there in Libya, we've been there, and we need to be convinced that if we go back to fighting, it'll be a pendulum—it'll be a little bit like east is winning, and then west is winning. And that's not really the way out. The way out in Libya is very much political, Libyan-driven, UN supported and, you know, that's what we're hoping for.
ANDERSON: Great, great. There are obviously more questions there, but I want to sort of raise, you know, we went from, if you will, local to regional to now. I understand that later this morning, or perhaps already, UAE will formally announce a bid for an elected seat on the UN Security Council. Since you will be running unopposed, presumably, you have a pretty good shot at winning the seat for the '22-'23 term. So, what do you want to do with that? What are your ambitions for the UN, for the Security Council, for your role, you know, let's think globally now for a minute?
GARGASH: Yes. Well, let me start describing a very difficult year for you. This has been a difficult year for everybody. But in this difficult year, the UAE, I think, has sort of challenged itself and surpassed. On COVID, we have done up to today almost 9.6 million tests on COVID. We do about a hundred thousand a day, because we tooled very early on COVID, and we recognized that the science must lead, and we recognized that we have to tool up, because there will be a shortage of kits, there will be a shortage of this. And our early concern, like every country, was our health infrastructure—we're beyond that. So today, for example, we did 96,000 tests, and yesterday was the same and the day before the same. And we ended up with about nine hundred, anywhere between five hundred to a thousand cases every day, but none of them is really, very serious right now. Our health sector is quite protected. I think this is something that we will bring to our UNSC seat. I think we've learned a lot in this. We will bring that tomorrow. I think we're very humbled by the crisis in the region, by the idea that the region will emerge from COVID, scarred, bruised, weaker, and I would also say, less prospects. And I think from that prospect, the idea of healing, and in political terms, healing means, you know, putting politics and diplomacy ahead of kinetic conflict. And I think this is something that we will try and bring there—there are too many issues in the region. And the same year that has been a year of crisis, we've managed to send a Mars probe this year, we have finally, this year, after ten years, our civilian nuclear reactor, the first in the Arab world, and, you know, signed all the agreements on enrichment, etcetera, is actually plugged into our grid. And this also shows you the sort of forward-thinking that we have. And recently, of course, you had the Abraham Accord. So, we want to bring the sort of a new thinking from the region. We want to build on two things. We want to build on established governance and rules that are important for a small country like ours in the international system, because that's what protects us really, and to try and a very, very difficult international system to ensure that its more rules based. And I think, on the other hand, we want to bring this sort of optimism from a region that people don't expect optimism from and, you know, our track record speaks for itself.
ANDERSON: I have to say a little bit of optimism from anywhere right now would be most welcome. Yes, I think that would, you know, particularly from the region, I think you're quite right. We've come to about the time when I think we can invite members to join the conversation. Keep in mind all of you that this is still on the record.
STAFF: (Gives queuing instructions.)
We will take the first question from Gary Sick.
Q: This is Gary Sick—Columbia University. You're getting bombarded by Columbia University today. Anwar, it's extremely good to see you—
GARGASH: Good to see you, Gary.
Q: —after quite a number of years, actually.
GARGASH: Many years, Gary.
Q: Anyway, we remember those days very fondly. And you were one of the authors for a Gulf/2000 volume which is still being used in classrooms, so going back to your professorial days. Since then you become famous and we've lost you—
Q: —but that's fine. I would like to carry on a little bit beyond where Lisa left off with a very specific question. In terms of your foreign policy, part of your foreign policy that has received less attention, at least in the West, has been, let me just identify several points: one, is you have actively supported the Southern Transitional Conference, the STC, in Yemen, which has opposed, in many cases, Hadi, the head of the government, the official head of the government. It has basically called for a break apart of Yemen so that the south would succeed. And they change their mind once in a while, but basically that is what that's what they stand for. So, you've supported them very, very actively. And there's a question about whether that is actually adding to the peace process in Yemen, or whether it's actually making it more difficult. And you have also established, by all accounts, a significant presence in Socotra Island, which is a very strategic location. Again, the people locally have mixed emotions. You're obviously putting some money in there, but there is also the presence, is something new, and not everybody is in favor of that in terms of where Yemen is. You made a very significant effort to establish a foothold of some sort, in Somalia. So, these are things that require money, and it requires effort and requires risk. And I have never heard anyone from the UAE spell out sort of what the thinking is for these interventions, if you like, in various aspects of very regional politics all centering right around the Bab al-Mandeb Straight. And I can't think of anybody better to provide some overall thinking about this than you.
GARGASH: Well again, Gary, it's great to hear from you. And if you have a conference coming in northern Italy again, I'll come. Okay. I think, Gary, it's important what you said. And it's important also to clarify. I think the first thing is what I just said to Lisa. I think overall, we feel that this is a changing international system. And Gulf states and other global Arab states have more of a responsibility to manage their own regions, issues of stability, and peace in their own region. Now, are they doing it right? Are they doing it wrong? That's a different thing. But this is a time, I think, where we see a vacuum, we see a vacuum at times trying to be filled by Iran, we're seeing a vacuum at times by Russia, by Turkey recently, so we see a vacuum there. So, I think that is fundamentally one of our basic concepts here, that there whether we like it or no, there is more responsibility. The UAE can't do it, of course, the UAE is always a team player, but we are trying also to get some more of the Arab countries to think the same way we think here.
Which leads me, I'll start with Somalia, because it's easier, and then I'll go back to your questions on Yemen. I think in Somalia, it was an extension really of our operation in Afghanistan. What we found out is that terrorist groups are basically—they don't really know boundaries, and there was a connection between many of these terrorist groups and al-Shabaab. We went into Somalia when nobody went into Somalia, and we were the only Arab country that was involved in training the Somali government and the darkest, darkest years of Somalia's instability, and our operation was single-handedly al-Shabaab. That developed, of course, with the maritime piracy, but maritime piracy developed also because of the lack of economic opportunity in Somalia, and we were one of the earliest countries to sort of create more knowledge and create more awareness of the maritime piracy and galvanize international support with other countries. As I said, you know, the key about understanding the UAE is there is no hubris, we work with friends. And if we don't have friends, we're not going to work alone, yes. But in Somalia, that was our main rule, which was an extension of combating Al Qaeda-type groups, and, as I said, the darkest, darkest years. Now, of course, we've lost that foothold in Somalia, again, because I think the current Somali government made the wrong choice by putting a very, very fragile country into a very polarized situation between the Turks and other Arabs and so on and so forth.
In Yemen, you know, first of all, our relationship with Yemen, you know, as a country that supports Yemen is not a new relationship. This is a relationship where Yemen is one of our main donor destinations since the formation of the UAE, including south Yemen, including Socotra. In Socotra, we've had various projects of helping that small island over the last 22-23 years. It's nothing new. But what is essential there's, I think, many of the Yemeni parties and especially Al-Islah, you know, the UAE is their boogeyman, really. It's the one that they want to every other day, they have a story about Socotra. The latest is that the UAE and Israel are forming, you know, a strategic base at Socotra. And, you know, some people buy that, unfortunately. And it turns out that nothing of this is true. So, it's the next room or the third room or the fourth room. So, Socotra really is an area of concern for us that's more developmental and humanitarian. And this has been the case, not from today, but as I said, prior to 22-23 years.
Now we go to the STC. I think our discovery of the STC was really by chance. We entered Yemen as part of the Arab Coalition with a very efficient military but not a very large military. And we had two options: either to buy the loyalty of the tribes to fight for us and put our forces with these tribes, or to train a new force, and this is where the relationship started. So suddenly, we saw many of the southerners disgruntled—doctors and teachers and farmers and fishermen—being galvanized, and these, many of them, we fought along these people. So really, a group will be led by an UAE contingent, but many of the southerners were there. But this does not in any way imply that we are supportive of their sort of self-determination political program. And we've made that very clear. That has to be decided on a negotiating table under the auspices of the UN. And I have a description for this relationship. And I describe it here, in the same way, with the valiant Kurdish forces that the Americans have teamed up with in Syria against ISIS. So clearly, here, you have a relationship where the Americans have depended on many of these Kurds, to fight against ISIS and ultimately defeat ISIS. But it doesn't mean that the United States, in any way, supports, you know, a Kurdish state in Syria. So here again, this is something that was very practical, we could not depend on the Hadi forces, because they were more interested in influence and byzantine Yemeni politics. We could not depend on tribes that have for, you know, hundreds of years received, you know, money from this side, or that side, and will switch sides. This was an efficient force, this is a force that continuously beat the Houthis in every single engagement, and right in front of that force, was young Emirati commanders who were there. And that in itself galvanized the forces, because you are not just financing this force and telling them, "go lose your lives or go fight for this cause." They were seeing our young commanders trained in Afghanistan, trained in the Balkans, trained in many other areas leading battles.
Do we have long term, you know—I sometimes, you know, think about all these, you know, theories by many of people who watch this and say, you know, the UAE's interested in a port in Aden then and doing this and that. Again, you know, we try to run Aden port many, many years ago, but many of these ports are unionized in a way that it did become really a company belonging to the people working there—you cannot modernize these ports. And the UAE doesn't really want to go into that trap. There are ports that we are running today in Chile and Mombasa and India that are much easier in their politics, and much more lucrative financially. And I sometimes, you know, joke and say, you know, we could run Aden port, and it'll take us five hundred years to recoup some of the money that we spent in Yemen. So, I don't see all this. So, the fundamental thing is we see a region where it cannot any longer depend on international forces for its security and peace. The international angle here, whether it's American, French or other European, is important, but they will come and play a role where they see their national interest affected, not necessarily your national interest. It's a new way of looking at our region. Can we go back and be passive as we were? Some Gulf countries believe we can. We think we disagree with that, because we think that things have changed, and that sort of passive-observer role is no longer viable in a very changing international system.
ANDERSON: Fabulous answer. Gary, I hope that answered most of what you wanted to know. We're ready for the next question, and I think it should not be someone from Columbia.
STAFF: We'll take the next question from Ethan Bronner.
Q: Hi, I'm calling from Bloomberg. Mr. Minister, you mentioned the nuclear reactor that went online on the grid. And you also mentioned the desire to think in new big ways for the region. I wanted to ask you about solar energy and whether the UAE is thinking about it in any genuinely serious way and whether your expectations that Israeli technology would play a role. Thank you.
GARGASH: No, no, I think we've surpassed the Israeli technology on solar, I think we've invested very heavily in solar. I urge you to look into what we are doing on solar; we've got some of the largest solar capability in the world, either in action already, or in the pipeline. And definitely, the way that we are thinking about is that we do need, you know, again, the nuclear part is part of a strategy that was devised ten years ago, which is a mix of energy sources. Part of it will be gas, part of it will be nuclear, and part of it will be solar and other methods that are renewable. So clearly, we are there, and we've been working on it, and I think now devising one of the largest projects on solar. But we already have projects that are online, also.
ANDERSON: Great. Thank you very much.
STAFF: We'll take our next question from Alexis Crow.
Q: Thanks so much. Salam alaikum, Dr. Gargash. Shukran—and look forward to seeing you in the next time in person. I lead the geopolitical practice for Price Waterhouse Cooper globally. And one of my night jobs is a senior fellow at Columbia Business School, so the identity is hidden, but it's there. I have a question on Saudi. And, you know, you mentioned the inspiration of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, and I think it's clear he's been such an inspiration for Mohammed bin Salman. And so just wondered about how you're carrying that sense of optimism and guiding the rest of the region, particularly to the Saudi brothers and sisters, on this normalization of relations with Israel.
GARGASH: Well, I have a son who's married to a Saudi, so I travel quite often, not on official business, but I can see how lives are changing there. I can see that, you know, her family, there is a sense of looking towards the future, and less time spent on long, long summer vacations. More, I would say, optimism about the future. I think, Saudi Arabia, I think, is moving forward. And Saudi Arabia, you know, again, I have to say that, for me, the UAE is a very important country, but I have to admit, Saudi Arabia is many times more important than the UAE in terms of its size, in terms of its symbolism, and in terms of its gravitas. And I think what Saudi Arabia is doing in the region is incredible in terms of various small and big things. Small things that are making Saudi Arabia, in my opinion, more attractive to visit, more, you know, you'll be surprised, but before the COVID thing, for so many people, very young people in the UAE, who had never thought of, you know, I mean, they will always go to Mecca, and, you know, and go by Jeddah. But now, for example, they’re thinking of a weekend in Riyadh, and the place is changing a lot. But I think other than that, there is a clear realization, that as we in the UAE say, you know, it is always perhaps easy to think why am I bothered with all this? Let me just stay in my default position. But I think it's the same mentality that or idea that the default will no longer be capable of addressing future challenges. And I think this is one of the issues that we are all arriving at, whether it's Oman, or Saudi Arabia, or Qatar, or Bahrain, or Kuwait, or whoever. I think we all in our own ways, are thinking that we've had it so good, but it just can't continue in the same again, sorry, to use the term, in the same sort of rentier economy. And I think what the Saudis are doing are challenging that with very bold plans that are socio-economic. And, you know, I wish them all the success.
But I would also say that what we do in the UAE or Kuwait or Saudi Arabia touches the whole Arab world, because if you really think the GCC countries are basically one of the largest employers of Arab youth, combined, we are one of the largest employers of Arab youth, the money that goes from these Arab youth, to their families or from Arab families living in these countries. So, it is important, not for what we do, not only for us, but I think for the region. So, we are very bullish about what's going on in Saudi Arabia. And I hear, you know, I hear trepidation because, you know, when you come with a new challenge, you always are concerned about different ways of lies and different challenges. But with that, I think there's a lot of optimism, and a lot of looking forward to addressing these challenges. Again, on all these issues, you know, I mean, we spoke in the beginning about the Abraham Accord, and again we're talking about this.
You have to remember that this region is demographically very young. People who are very young, don't have the same views about Israel that their older generation has, and they are much more, I would say, willing to come and say, well, let's try this, let's try the future. I think in the same way, it's also these new demographics are saying, yes, it's great that I have a country that looks like any other place in the world, with the same opportunities, with the same prospects and so on and so forth. We really need to turn our region, you know, every region has its own exclusivity. But if your, you know, sort of pie is 80 percent exclusivity and 20 percent global, you got it all wrong. You have to think that you are more part of the universal world. So, the pie should be the other way around. I think this is what we are trying to do in the region, where we know that we have things that are particular to the region, but these should not really be the large part of the pie. The large part of the pie should be more within what we see as globally successful societies, and so on and so forth.
I think if you look also vis-a-vis Saudi Arabia, you know, I mean, people come and say, you know, you've got the probe to Mars and got this and that, but I still will challenge anybody and say that the UAE's single most important achievement is its enablement of women. This is something that started very early on, people who live here recognize it. People who have never been here, still have a stereotype of a sort of Oriental, you know, perception of the area. And I see it. I mean, I see it in terms of my daughters working, I see it in terms of parents who have not been opposed. And this is a conservative society, not being opposed to their daughters being on a business delegation and traveling, even if they are single, understanding that they have to earn their own salaries, understanding that job creation should include women and academia and [inaudible]. And this is really our single most important achievement, I would say, regardless of all the other things that we have seen. Saudi Arabia, I think, is doing the same in terms of, you know, this long held views on how women have been treated in Saudi Arabia. This is something that molecules of it are breaking up, in my opinion. And this is something essential. You know, two days ago, we legislated that in the private sector, salaries of women should be equal to salaries of men for doing the same job. I mean this is already in government. This is legislating practices in our society, and I think as we move forward, the way I look at Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed's vision, I think you will see that many of what is considered "red lines" in an Arab and Middle Eastern society, you will see that they will be challenged, they will be challenged, because as I said, we've got to change our thinking of the pie. We can't be 20 percent global and 80 percent exclusive. We will be, you know, we will be obliterated by other regions and other economies and other opportunities—we can't afford to do it.
ANDERSON: Thank you very much. I must say I think one of the things you can do with your Security Council seat is to encourage other countries to legislate equal salaries for men and women. But let's not go there. We have time for another question.
STAFF: We'll take our next question from Steven Cook.
Q: Thank you. It's nice to see you Dr. Anwar and Lisa.
GARGASH: Thank you, Steven.
Q: I'm breaking the Columbia chain—Vassar, Hopkins, and Penn all the way. Dr. Anwar, I recently saw photos, still photos, of the Emirati air force and the Hellenic Air Force preparing for exercises off of the island of Crete. It seems that the eastern Mediterranean is quite far afield from the United Arab Emirates. And it strikes me that the presence of Emirati forces there and the improvement of relations between the United Arab Emirates and countries in the eastern Mediterranean is directly related to Turkey and Turkey's presence in Libya. If those hopeful signs that you mentioned in Libya do produce a durable agreement, and to keep those end up leaving Libya, will the Emirates also leave the region?
GARGASH: I think we have no interest in staying in Libya. I think we are not there on the ground. We have no interest in staying in Libya. But I think this raises the issue of Turkey, which is I think, important, and we haven't really addressed it yet. I remember a conversation that I had with Ahmet Davutoglu when he was foreign minister of Turkey. And we had just run a poll that—and this was just the first year of the Syria crisis—and the poll was attitudes of Arab youth and it was very positive around Turkey. And he asked me about it, and I said it's very positive. He said, "Should I worry about anything?" I said, "No, you shouldn't. It's very positive." I wish I can see him now and say, you know, that today, you are seeing—you see my assessment of this is Iran and Turkey recognize that the international system is cheap. These are regional powers that believe that they can play an outsized role. They cannot play that outsized role in the old Soviet Republics, because it will get them into conflict with Russia. So where is the soft belly? It's the Arab world, so clearly, both countries are trying to spread their influence in the Arab countries. Iran has done that; some would say successfully. I would say, at the peril of its own economy at the peril of being in a consistent state of crisis. And Turkey is doing that right now. I think Turkey, unfortunately, is looking at it from a sort of imperialistic past. And from a leader who sees that his role is to augment Turkish presence and Turkish power. And I think everywhere he's pushing, there is a cost internally, and you can see that cost internally on the economy, on the polarization of the population, on the currency. So clearly, today Turkey, unless you are an Islamist agitator or a Muslim Brotherhood member, you know, or if you're Qatar or Somalia, Arabs today look at Turkey as a country that is trying to reincarnate its ultimate past. And I think there is a cost here, you know, I mean, why would we go and show political support to Greece, in something like this if Turkey was not menacing towards the Arab region, trying to undermine Egypt's stability, trying, you know, to, you know—Turkey today, for example, has five thousand soldiers on Iraqi soil that have been there for a decade, ten years. So, for us, this is like certain permanency.
Our worry is that there will be certain permanency in northwest Syria. So clearly, Turkey, in my opinion, is overextending and paying the price and polarizing its own society, affecting the economy, etcetera. Today, one of the largest trade partners of Turkey in the region is the United Arab Emirates. We've got, I think, the last number of imports and exports is about $10 billion, quite a lot of money. But the idea is that I will also push forward with, in my opinion, an ill designed and ultimately allocated approach of recreating Ottoman history and not living within the sort of Ataturk estate. I think this has a cost. I mean, what Turkey does with itself, I have no problem with. But as soon as you encroach on the aboriginal system, then it becomes also our concern, it becomes Saudi Arabia's concern, Egypt's concern, everybody's concern really, because although the Arab regional system is very weak, it is, I think, united in a spherical concept. And that concept is that you can't encroach on Arab land. And although everybody has its own agreement or disagreement with Iraq, Iraq consistently gets total Arab support, except for Qatar and Somalia, when it comes to the presence of Turkish forces on its borders.
So, I would say that this is part and parcel also of what I described earlier, that this is not some people cry or think that the UAE is, there's a certain hubris in this issue. And I would say no, this is really our reading of how the challenges in this region have to be addressed by the countries of the region, because you are not guaranteed the sort of international protection that you think you are guaranteed. But also, in that architecture, you do need your American allies and French allies and you need to speak to the Russians. But you need also a quota of Arab countries, and this is what we've been saying. As we said that there is something also that, I go back to Gary, and I want to reaffirm it—we don't work alone. Because if we don't have a group of countries that think alike, then we know that we don't have the gravitas to do what we think should be done. So even in Libya, I mean, throughout we've had a very close relationship with the Egyptians and the French. And then you have others who will come to the circle and will drop out, but we've never really worked them down there. And I think this actually explains many of our positions in many of the areas. So, don't only look at the two, you know, the few Emirati F-16s that are in that Greek exercise. There were many other Europeans that support Greece, there's France, there's a whole EU behind Greece, in what we see is a very legitimate and rational Greek position.
ANDERSON: Dr. Gargash, you were very lucky that the Council is so strict about ending on time, because I would love to follow up and I am sure there are dozens more questions. This was really a wonderful meeting. And I much appreciate your candor and willingness to spend so much time with us as you've been able to do. For all the rest of you, thank you for joining us. Note that the audio and transcript of today's meeting will be posted on the CFR website if you'd like to return to it. Once again, thank you very much.
GARGASH: Thank you very much. Thank you, Lisa. Thank you.