United Arab Emirates Shutters U.S.-Backed Group (NY) TIMES) By STEVEN LEE MYERS RIYADH, Saudi Arabia 04/01/12)
NEW YORK TIMES
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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — As Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton
worked hard on Saturday to focus attention on deepening security ties
with the Arab nations of the Persian Gulf, she found herself having
to deal with a surprising act of diplomatic defiance: the decision by
the United Arab Emirates, an ally, to shutter the offices of an
American-financed group that promotes democracy.
So far, the U.A.E. have not publicly explained their actions against
the organization, the National Democratic Institute, which only
recently was one of several nonprofits prosecuted in Egypt amid
concerns about what many Egyptians perceive as foreign meddling.
The move by the U.A.E. was not as shocking as that by the Egyptians —
in that case, the son of a Cabinet member was charged in criminal
court. But it was especially provocative, coming just before Mrs.
Clinton arrived in the region for talks with the U.A.E. and other
members of the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Egypt’s investigation of the group, along with the International
Republican Institute and others, prompted a fierce debate in
Washington over whether to continue providing military assistance to
the Egyptian military. The Obama administration eventually allowed
$1.3 billion in arms sales to move ahead, but only after Egypt
allowed American employees of the groups to leave the country.
The State Department on Saturday defended the National Democratic
Institute’s work in the U.A.E., while an official with the group in
the United States expressed some bafflement since he said it did not
do democracy-building work in the country. Les Campbell, the regional
director for the Middle East and North Africa, said the office in
Dubai, one of the emirates, was used to coordinate work in nearby
countries, including Saudi Arabia.
A German organization that was also targeted in Egypt, the Konrad
Adenauer Foundation, recently closed its office in the U.A.E. at the
demand of the country’s foreign ministry.
The closing of democracy-building organizations cast a shadow on the
meeting here Saturday, which was intended to inaugurate a strategic
multilateral alliance with the nations in the Gulf Cooperation
Council. In addition to the U.A.E., the group includes Saudi Arabia,
Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman.
Mrs. Clinton said the alliance would create “opportunities to pursue
multilateral cooperation on shared challenges, including terrorism,
nuclear proliferation and piracy.” As with Egypt, though, she found
herself defending American nongovernmental organizations, or
N.G.O.’s, in countries that are important to the United States on
When pressed during a news conference about the closing, Mrs. Clinton
said “we very much regret it” and said she had brought it up with the
country’s foreign minister at the conference.
“Both N.D.I. and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation offices play a key
role in supporting N.G.O.’s and civil society across the region, and
I expect our discussion on this issue to continue,” she said.
She added, however, that the administration’s “overarching” interest
was to cooperate with countries in the region, particularly in the
areas of security and antiterrorism.
The idea for Saturday’s meeting took shape last fall as the Obama
administration moved ahead with its withdrawal of the last American
troops from Iraq, reducing the American military presence in the
region at a time of increasing tensions with Iran.
The United States has close bilateral military relations with all six
gulf nations, but the administration hopes to develop a more united
military strategy that would include an integrated missile defense
system, intended to combat any attack in the region from Iran.
The United States has recently stepped up arms sales to gulf nations,
including a $30 billion sale of 154 F-15 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia
and a nearly $2 billion one to provide the United Arab Emirates with
one of the most sophisticated antimissile systems.
The gulf council, dominated by Saudi Arabia, has become more active
beyond its borders. Qatar and the U.A.E. sent combat aircraft to the
Mediterranean last year as part of the intervention against Libya,
while Bahrain and the U.A.E. have forces in Afghanistan.
That has made the United States eager to work even more closely with
the nations as a group. At the same time, however, the gulf nations
are some of the least democratic in the world. Last year, the gulf
council dispatched a military force to Bahrain to support that
government’s suppression of popular protests, brushing aside American
criticism. (Critics of the Obama administration’s policy in Bahrain
argue that the United States, which bases its Fifth Fleet there, did
not itself press the country hard enough to end a brutal crackdown.)
Mr. Campbell of the National Democratic Institute said the group had
been working in Dubai for almost four years. On Wednesday, he said,
authorities visited the office and said the license had been
canceled, but did not say why.
He said the office helped support programs in countries including
Qatar and Kuwait and that many of its programs worked with women to
bolster their leadership skills. He said the organization had two
expatriates and two local staff members in Dubai.
“I don’t know if this is part of a pattern after Egypt, but we’re
disappointed and disturbed at this turn of events,” he said.
Sam Gejdenson, a former House Democrat from Connecticut who serves on
the NDI board, said that certain players in the Middle East may have
felt threatened by the activities of the regional office.
“Sometimes there are factions in a country that try to convince
themselves if they can hold things together, everything will pass and
be okay,” he said, adding that he was not speaking on behalf of
NDI. “So they lash out at organization like NDI that try to help
bring about fair and honest elections. But you pay a heavy price in
the long haul for such a move.”
Mrs. Clinton also confirmed Saturday that Iran and six world powers,
including the United States, had agreed to meet in Istanbul on April
13 for the latest round of talks about Iran’s nuclear program.
Thom Shanker and Eric Lipton contributed reporting from Washington.
(Copyright 2012 The New York Times Company 04/01/12)
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