- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 11, 2010

NOT OUT OF CONTEXT

The ambassador of the United Arab Emirates is not the kind of diplomat to speak carelessly, especially when talking about endorsing a U.S. military strike on Iran to stop it from developing a nuclear bomb.

However, Yousef Al Otaibaset off a global shock wave last week when he responded to a question at a high-level conference in Aspen, Colo., and The Washington Times reported his remarks in a front-page story by national security correspondent Eli Lake.

Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic Magazine, which hosted the discussion with the ambassador, asked Mr. Al Otaiba, “Do you want the U.S. to stop the Iranian nuclear program by force?”

The ambassador responded, “Absolutely. Absolutely.” He went on the explain why, but those two words were explosive.

Within hours, the story was picked up around the world with attribution to The Times. The Guardian in London and Ha’aretz in Israel were among the newspapers that credited The Times. Iran released a venomous reaction, with a top member of its parliament denouncing the ambassador for “harsh and crude” and “foul” remarks.

Tension between the tiny Gulf emirate and its powerful neighbor across the Strait of Hormuz was already high before the ambassador’s candid answer, which surprised many of the members of Congress and former U.S. diplomats at the conference.

The United Arab Emirates sheepishly released a statement saying The Times took the ambassador’s remarks “out of context.” The Guardian called the statement “an unconvincing official denial.”

A review of Mr. Goldberg’s blog, in which he printed the ambassador’s answer from a transcript of his briefing, showed that The Times quoted the ambassador accurately.

Mr. Al Otaiba has been ambassador in Washington since July 2008. Before that, he spent seven years in the high-profile position of director of international affairs for Sheik Mohamed bin Zayed al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates.

Mr. Al Otaiba was also the United Arab Emirates‘ principal liaison to other governments for security, anti-terrorism and defense issues.

DIPLOMATIC TRAFFIC

Foreign visitors in Washington this week include:

Monday

President Leonel Fernandez of the Dominican Republic, who meets with President Obama. On Tuesday, he addresses George Washington University on the impact of the global recession on Latin America.

Wu Bingbing, the Sultan Qaboos professor in Arabic Studies at China’s Peking University; Emile Hokayem, political editor of the National newspaper of the United Arab Emirates and a regional security analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies-Middle East in Bahrain. They participate in a forum on China and the Persian Gulf at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Wednesday

Tariq Fatemi, a retired career diplomat for Pakistan’s Foreign Service and currently a foreign policy adviser to Nawaz Sharif, chairman of the Pakistan Muslim League. He addresses the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Thursday

P.V. Ramana, a research fellow at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses in New Delhi, India; K. Srinivas Reddy, deputy editor of the Hindu newspaper; and Nandini Sundar, professor of sociology at Delhi University. They hold a briefing at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars to discuss the Maoist insurgency that has spread to 20 of India’s 29 states.

Friday

Fernando Cordero, president of Ecuador’s National Assembly. He addresses the Inter-American Dialogue on the South American country’s new constitution and political situation under the leftist government of President Rafael Correa.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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