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Cohen Meets with UAE Officials

Saturday, 18 November 2000 12:00 AM

Cohen met with Abu Dabi Crown Prince Shaykh Khalifa bin Zayed and Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Lt. Gen. Shaykh Mohamed bin Zayed. UAE President Shaykh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan is in the United States for a kidney transplant.

This is Cohen's ninth and probably his visit to the region as defense secretary, and a vital one as he assures the Gulf nations the United States will remain committed to the region.

But the United States needs them as much as they need the United States. Members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) who stood in opposition to Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War have publicly softened their stance in recent months, noting that economic sanctions hurt the Iraqi people more than they do their head of state. While sanctions also serve to keep Saddam Hussein from rebuilding his military, the prevailing view here and in other countries including Oman, where Cohen is based on this trip, is that lifting them would serve to strengthen the Iraqi people.

After so many years of deprivation, the logic goes, giving them a measure of prosperity might enable them to get rid of Saddam Hussein on their own.

It is a view the United States flatly rejects, and with veto power on the U.N. Security Council, which imposed the sanctions, it is a proposal the United States can prevent being implemented.

Qatar this week presented Iraq with a new 747 aircraft, saying it is an expression of solidarity with the Iraqi people and President Saddam Hussein, according to news reports.

The United States has also come under fire from the UAE and other members of the GCC for its perceived favoritism of Israel in the latest round of violence with Palestinians.

But U.S. officials profess to appreciate the publicly expressed dissonance, seeing it as a mark of the strength of the relationship the Untied States has built over the last decade.

"The relationship is mature. Friends speak openly to each other," said a U.S. official in Abu Dhabi. "They express a willingness to work together even as they express their concerns. It is the sign of a truly strong relationship."

The UAE is a small, wealthy country of 3 million surrounded by larger, stronger powers like Iran and Iraq, and its close ties to the United States give it an added measure of security.

"We're the big guys on the block. When you are short it helps to have taller friends," the official said in a background briefing with reporters at Abu Dhabi airport.

But the official said the relationship goes deeper than that purely practical one.

"There's actually a little admiration. We share a number of concerns and they like the way we do business," the official said.

The UAE was extremely receptive to boosting security for U.S. personnel here after the bombing of the USS Cole off Yemen in October.

The country – a loose federation of seven Arab tribes – hosts a squadron of American tankers used to refuel U.S. and British aircraft enforcing the no-fly zone in southern Iraq, and in March purchased 80 American-built F-16 fighter jets for almost $8 billion.

Copyright 2000 by United Press International.

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Cohen met with Abu Dabi Crown Prince Shaykh Khalifa bin Zayed and Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Lt. Gen. Shaykh Mohamed bin Zayed. UAE President Shaykh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan is in the United States for a kidney transplant. This is Cohen's ninth and probably his...
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Saturday, 18 November 2000 12:00 AM
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