Speech of the Minister of Foreign Affairs at the Manama Dialogue 2017
It is a great pleasure to join my esteemed colleagues His Excellency Ayman Al Safadi and General David Petraeus in this Plenary Session and I would like to thank my dear friends Dr. John Chipman, Professor François Heisbourg, and the rest of the IISS team for organizing what is now the 13th Manama Dialogue and for their continuous and tireless efforts with the ministry of foreign affairs to make this event a success.
As we gather to discuss ways to achieve a stable regional security architecture many of you I’m sure are wondering if, given the events of the past year, that is even possible. The GCC, the cornerstone of regional security is facing challenges from around the region, Yemen remains in a state of war, and all around our region fires are still simmering if not burning with vigour. Yet in my view, the main obstacles to achieving stability in the region are closer to being solved now than they have been for a long time. I will discuss the main requirements I consider essential for such an outcome.
(terrorism and non-state actors)
If we consider all the challenges we face, we will find that the spread of terrorists whether state sponsored or as violent non-state actors in the region is the most pressing. In Yemen, we are fighting to prevent a proud Arab country with a rich and varied history from falling under the control of a vicious militia that has subjected our Yemeni brothers and sisters to violence, wanton assassinations, and terrible destruction. If anybody has any doubt as to the intentions of the Houthis in Yemen, one need look no further than the events unfolding in Sanaa as we speak. Houthi terrorists are executing men by the hundreds and have cut access to the internet and social media to prevent Yemenis from reporting their crimes to the world.
The Houthis were offered a seat at the table, they were part of the political solution agreed to in 2011, in fact, the first and second time I met them was in Riyadh, but they refused to take their place among Yemen’s political representatives and instead decided to violate the agreements, betray their countryman, and capture Yemen attempting to turn the country into a repressive offshoot of the Islamic Republic on our very doorstep.
We cannot and will not allow that to happen. Our coalition remains committed to taking the fight to the Houthis, freeing Yemen, and paving the way for the return of stability and security to all Yemenis, I would also like to stress the importance of providing adequate humanitarian aid and I commend the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s efforts in providing and facilitating aid to affected areas through the King Salman Humanitarian aid and relief centre.
In Lebanon, we have a cautionary tale of what might transpire if the Houthis remain a force in Yemen. Hezbollah which began as a terrorist organization founded by a few radicals and funded by the IRGC in 1982 has now developed into a potent political force that dictates the future of millions of Lebanese citizens who do not share their vision for the country or the region. It ignores the laws and customs of Lebanon at will and answers not to the Lebanese people, but to the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic. Hezbollah has used its base in the south of Lebanon to expand its operations into other regions, it has been a key factor in prolonging the Syrian crisis, it has wreaked havoc in Iraq, and it continues to train operatives to undertake terrorist acts in Bahrain, and in Kuwait, along with smuggling weapons and explosives and stashing them in our neighbourhoods. We cannot stand by while an armed and dangerous terrorist organization has its way in country after country, and we continue to urge all our friends and allies to recognize Hezbollah for what it really is, a terrorist organization.
Also, the responsible countries of the region recognize that ending the role of terrorist organizations and violent non-state actors is a priority, that is why Bahrain, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt took the decision to boycott Qatar. Our actions against Qatar are the result of decades of Qatari polices that threatened and jeopardized our national security, and came as a last resort after Qatar failed to honour agreement after agreement, we had always given Qatar the benefit of the doubt, we have always sought to work out our differences with Qatar in a quiet manner, with the close cooperation of GCC members for the sake of preserving GCC unity. But unfortunately, that approach was not sufficient, and we realized that more urgent measures were required.
Some have claimed this is about Qatar adopting a foreign policy independent of the GCC, it is not. The aim of our actions is to stop Qatar from plotting to undermine and weaken our governments, and from supporting terrorist groups that destabilize countries like Egypt, Yemen, and Libya and to stop their interference in other countries seeking to influence its domestic politics for its gain. The groups funded by Qatar in Libya should be of particular concern to Europe, as terrorist groups establish bases in Libya from which they could easily access the European continent. Our Quartet is prepared to return our relations with Qatar to what it was before, with the provision that Qatar finally abides by the agreements it has already signed and stop its support for terrorism and undermining our countries and the interference in the domestic affairs of other states.
Although largely defeated on the ground, groups like Daesh and Al Qaeda have a striking tendency to re-emerge under different guises but with essentially the same goals. We must support the government of Iraq under the leadership of Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi in their efforts to rid areas formerly occupied by Daesh of all remnants of the terrorists including clearing mines and IEDs and to ensure the return of Mosul’s residents to their homes, we must make sure that the sectarianism that gave rise to Daesh and helped nourish its growth must be extinguished from Iraq and indeed the region.
As part of our effort to secure the region, and in particular the Arabian gulf, I would like to make special reference to our historic alliance with the United States of America, the United Kingdom and our global allies and to commend the efforts of our combined armed forces to secure this vital waterway.
Ladies and Gentleman
(norms of mutual respect and non-interference)
Another crucial step in building a stable region is re-establishing norms of mutual respect and non-interference in the domestic affairs of states. States of the region must work to build a level of confidence and respect that prevents any state from seeking to exploit political dynamics in any other country in the region for their advantage or to buy influence, that ultimately subverts the natural political progression of the state subject to interference.
And here, The Islamic Republic of Iran is of course the prime culprit, it has built a network of surrogates wherever it can in the region and beyond, reaching as far as west Africa and Latin America, and at any moment, it could call on its surrogates to violence and destruction. We see this in Yemen clearly, we see it in Syria as well. And we continue to experience Iranian sabotage and terror in our own country.
When we look at Iran, we see a stark difference between Iran as a country with a proud people and a rich culture and history and the Islamic Republic as a regime, that impedes the progress of Iran and prioritizes regional expansion to the welfare of their own people. We see clearly what might have been and what could be achieved in terms of economic, trade, and cultural ties. Should Iran stop attempting to export its revolution and return to the fold of responsible members of the international community, the entire region will benefit.
This past week we all heard the President of the United States announce his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, as a long-time friend and ally of the United States we do not and have never questioned the intentions of the United States towards the stability and prosperity of our region. However, this move threatens the peace process on which millions have pinned their hopes and aspirations, it hinders progress on all past and present initiatives and violates relevant United Nations resolutions, and of course, the central right of the Palestinian people, to free East Jerusalem from occupation. If we in the region are going to build modern countries on ancient claims, we will face one claim after another and never ever achieve a durable peace in a region with an endless number of possible ancient claims where empires and nations have risen and fallen, borders have continuously shifted, and where boundary disputes are a primary source of instability of our region today. Therefore. We affirm the importance of the pivotal role of the United States in achieving a lasting and durable two state solution in accordance with the relevant international agreements and the Arab Peace Initiative.
Ladies and Gentleman,
During the past few years, as conflicts have erupted and some worsened, the obstacles to peace and security have come clearly into focus, and the responsible countries of the region have begun the long and tough task of addressing these obstacles. The efforts of the international community along with regional allies to combat Daesh, the coalition to restore legitimacy in Yemen, and the Quartet’s blockade of Qatar are all efforts to stop the spread terrorism and violence in the region.
A few years ago, we had proposed a regional organization that included all major regional actors. I still retain hope that such an organization will come to fruition. But to get to that stage, the necessary groundwork must be set. The region has to come to a consensus among all countries of the region that terrorism and violent non-state actors have no place in our countries and that the sovereign nation state is after all, the only legitimate representative of citizens within those states. Only then can we begin serious discussion of creating a stable, prosperous, and secure region. Thank you very much.