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Tuesday 22 Aug 2017 | 19:05 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 22 Aug 2017 | 19:05 | SYDNEY

When (Middle) East meets (south) west

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13 July 2010 08:19

Little noticed in Australia was the inaugural Arab League Pacific Islands summit held in Abu Dhabi in late June.

This earlier post highlighted the UAE's interest in the South Pacific in trying to secure votes for its candidacy to house the headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in Abu Dhabi – a bid that was ultimately successful.

The UAE has followed up on its initial engagement with the region by convening the forum in Abu Dhabi. Such follow-up accords with the Emiratis' desire to raise its international diplomatic profile, albeit in a more measured and less aggressive manner than its Gulf neighbour Qatar.

The benefits of engaging with the island states was apparent from the joint communiqué issued at the end of the summit. For its part, the UAE gained Pacific islands endorsement for its call to Iran to undertake negotiations to resolve the 'three islands dispute', and support for the creation of a nuclear free zone within the Middle East (aimed at both Iran and Israel).

For their part, the Pacific Islands were able to stake their claims for Pacific Partnership funding from the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development, as the prime minister of the Solomons noted. Fiji's prime minister called for a permanent Gulf presence in the region and even managed to get in a not so subtle dig at Australia when he asked those assembled to 'recognise the point of differential between the small Pacific island developing states and the metropolitan powers in the Pacific region'.

Australia already has a robust relationship with the UAE, given the number of Australian companies operating and expats living there, the fact that it is one of our top 20 international trading partners, and because it plays host to our regional military headquarters. The UAE's increasing interest in the Pacific Island states now gives us a common interest in our, as opposed to their, backyard.

Photo by Flickr user Daniel Y. Go, used under a Creative Commons license.

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