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Emirati foreign minister defends Trump visa ban

Russia calls for Syria’s return to Arab League

ABU DHABI: US President Donald Trump’s travel ban on citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations is not anti-Islam, the United Arab Emirates foreign minister said yesterday. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, whose country like neighboring Saudi Arabia is a close ally of Washington, said it was “wrong to say” that the decision by the new US administration was “directed against a particular religion”.

“The United States has made… a sovereign decision,” he said at a joint press conference with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, pointing out that it was “provisional” and did not apply to “the large majority” of the world’s Muslims. In his defense of the ban which has stirred widespread protests across the globe, Sheikh Abdullah also said that some of the countries on the blacklist had “structural challenges” on the security front that they still had to overcome. “This is a temporary ban and it will be revised in three months, so it is important that we put into consideration this point,” he added.

Trump’s controversial executive order on Friday singled out citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen to prevent “radical Islamic terrorists” from entering the United States. But the 90-day ban, which could still extend to other states, has exempted Muslim-majority nations associated with major attacks in the West.
Of the five major Gulf oil monarchies, the only one to express even mild disapproval in public was Qatar, whose foreign minister was quoted during a visit to Serbia as saying he hoped Washington would reassess it. Some Gulf officials even backed it openly. Dhahi Khalfan, a senior Dubai police official, tweeted on Monday “complete support” for Trump’s ban. “Every country has the right to protect its security … Trump, what you’re doing is right.”

Sheikh Abdullah and Lavrov discussed a range of regional issues including the war in Syria during their meeting, which included Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit. Trump’s order also includes a suspension of refugee admissions for 120 days, and bans Syrian refugees from entering indefinitely.

Lavrov called for Syria’s return to the Arab League, saying its membership would allow the organization to help find a political solution to the country’s conflict. “The League could play a more important, more effective role if the Syrian government was part of the organization,” Lavrov, whose country is a key ally of the Damascus regime and also a broker in peace efforts, told the press conference in the Emirati capital. He said Syria was a “legitimate” member of the United Nations and yet “cannot take part in discussions inside the Arab League”. “This does not help our joint (peace) efforts,” said Lavrov.
But Aboul Gheit, speaking at the same press conference, ruled out an early return of Syria to the Cairo-based organization. Any decision was up to the League’s 21 other members, he said, adding that the issue was not on the current agenda and would only be raised when “a political settlement” was in sight for Syria’s almost six-year-old civil war.

The Arab League suspended Syria’s membership at the end of 2011 following months of brutal repression of anti-regime demonstrations and an opposition movement supported by Gulf monarchies. Turning to Trump’s proposal of establishing safe zones for refugees in Syria and Yemen, another war-torn Arab nation, Lavrov expressed skepticism. “The Trump administration still has to work out a concrete approach. The idea of safe zones was studied at the onset of the Syrian crisis, something that would reproduce the sad experience of Libya,” he said. “Everyone understood this when Libya was destroyed,” the Russian foreign minister said.

But Lavrov said he remained convinced that Russia could “re-establish a complete and regular dialogue with the United States to lead to pragmatic results towards settling the situation in Syria, Libya and Yemen”. He said such cooperation would “not be dictated by the ideology of democratization for example”, referring to the role of past US administrations in the overthrow of dictators such as Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. – Agencies

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