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Is Trump’s Maximum Pressure Policy against Iran Giving the U.A.E. Cold Feet?

Aug. 12, 2019 (EIRNS)—The Washington Post, in a dispatch by Middle East correspondent Liz Sly in Abu Dhabi, complains that there are signs that the United Arab Emirates may not be fully onboard with the Trump Administration’s maximum pressure campaign against Iran, “calling into question how reliable an ally it would be in the event of a war between the United States and Iran.” The signs include a meeting the week before last between Iranian and U.A.E. border authorities, and the U.A.E.’s drawdown from Yemen, both of which put the U.A.E. at odds with U.S. policy. Apparently, the U.A.E. has been rattled by the negative economic consequences of U.S. sanctions and the likelihood that the Emirates would be on the front line in a war between the U.S. and Iran.

“The U.A.E. does not want war. The most important thing is security and stability and bringing peace to this part of the world,” an unnamed Emirati official told the Post. Whether the United States could count on Emirati support should the current tensions lead to war with Iran, may now be in doubt, diplomats and analysts say, writes Sly.

“The U.A.E. is increasingly tilting away from U.S. objectives,” said Theodore Karasik of the Washington-based Gulf Analytics Institute. “Is it the weak link in the Trump policy of maximum pressure? It may be.”

The Financial Times reported on July 26 that the U.A.E. had been a major hub for Iranian offshore trade—trade between the two countries, amounting to $19 billion last year, and that trade has been throttled by U.S. sanctions. The economic consequences of a conflict would be devastating for the U.A.E., which has built a business model around its ports and airports, tourism, and regional trade, FT reported.

IRNA, Iran’s official news agency, reported on Aug. 1 that Iran and the U.A.E. had signed an agreement on expansion of security cooperation in joint borders.

On Aug. 8, IRNA wrote that while some U.A.E. officials have been participating in the escalation against Iran, others are seeking improvement in the relationship. “U.A.E.’s inclination to breaking the ice of relations with Iran was evident when it did not echo the U.S. views claiming Iran was behind the alleged incidents against the Emirati tanker in the Persian Gulf in May,” IRNA reported.

The Iranians, of course, are welcoming the shift in the U.A.E.’s policy towards Iran. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an Aug. 5 press conference that Tehran has long been inviting countries in the region to the negotiation table as it has proposed the non-aggression pact to the Persian Gulf countries. He also stated that the “door of diplomacy is open,” and that negotiations and interaction are in the interest of Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and the entire region.

While U.A.E. officials insist that there’s been no policy shift—the basis of their policy towards Iran is said to be opposition to political Islam—the country’s real weakness is that it depends on expatriates for almost all professional skills in its economy; should war break out, they would all leave almost immediately. One lever that the U.A.E. has to slow down any U.S. war plans, would be the ability to shut down the U.S. air base at Al Dhafra, which would be key to any U.S. assault on Iran. But they refuse to say whether they would use that ability or not.

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