Thursday, 10th October 2019

Gulf leaders air grievances and score points at UN assembly

The 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly began on 17 September and ran on until the end of the month. As ever, it offered the opportunity for diplomatic grandstanding and endless glad-handing among presidents, foreign ministers and others.

Bahrain’s foreign affairs minister Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on 24 September. Following the underwhelming economic workshop that Bahrain held in June in support of the United States peace plan (GSN 1,082/5) – which now seems to be going nowhere – Khalid insisted Bahrain was unwavering in its support for an independent Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders. Bahrain remains closely aligned with the US; Khalid also addressed members of the American Jewish Committee at a meeting the same day, with US special representative for Iran Brian Hook in attendance.

From the stage in the UN General Assembly hall, Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani criticised countries supporting Libya National Army commander Khalifa Haftar in Libya, although he did not mention the UAE and Egypt by name. Saudi foreign minister Ibrahim Abdelaziz Al-Assaf used the platform to issue warnings about Iranian aggression and called on other countries to apply the “utmost pressure with every tool available”.

UAE foreign affairs and international co-operation minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan offered a more conciliatory take, calling for a renewed focus by UN members to implement international law, strengthen multilateralism and give a greater role for regional organisations to address tensions.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif made their travel plans late in the day: their US visas were only confirmed on 19 September, amid allegations that secretary of state Mike Pompeo had been trying to delay them. Once in New York, Rouhani unveiled his Hormuz Peace Endeavour – given the optimistic near-acronym of HOPE – a proposal for the six GCC states, Iran and Iraq to co-operate to protect shipping in the region’s waters and an attempt to counter US-led patrols in the region.

Rouhani refused to go along with an attempt by France’s President Emmanuel Macron to set up a call between him and President Donald Trump. The Iranian leader has refused any direct contact with the US president until sanctions are lifted – a position which has drawn rare support for Rouhani from hardline newspapers in Iran such as Javan and Kayan (although the latter was not happy with pictures of him laughing in meetings with some European leaders).

On the sidelines of the UN gathering, there were countless other meetings, including one between the foreign ministers of the GCC, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and the US, with Trump also at the table, to discuss Iranian policies and Iraqi security. There was also a meeting on Yemen, co-chaired by Kuwait, the UK and Sweden; a GCC foreign ministers meeting, chaired by Oman’s minister responsible for foreign affairs Yousef Bin Alawi; a GCC-European Union meeting; and a session between the GCC and Pakistan.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan seems to have travelled to New York in an aircraft loaned to him by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS). Before going to the US, Khan had been in the kingdom for a two-day visit and a Pakistan news channel reported that MBS had told him not to travel onwards via a commercial flight. “You are our special guest and you would be going to the US on my special aircraft,” the crown prince told Khan, according to Dunya News sources.

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