US Vice President Joe Biden has made the latest in a series of chastening apologies, after the United Arab Emirates expressed “astonishment” at his Thursday remarks. Biden called US allies “the biggest problem” in fighting terrorism in the Middle East.
Biden called Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince and Deputy Defense Minister Mohammed bin Zayed on Sunday to reaffirm the allies’ shared perspective on terrorism, the official Emirates news agency WAM reported.
Earlier on the same day, the UAE’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Gargash accused Biden of making remarks “which are far from the truth, especially with relation to the UAE’s role in confronting extremism and terrorism and its clear and advanced position in recognizing the dangers, including the danger of financing terrorism and terrorist groups.”
“The UAE’s counter-terrorism approach reflects a pioneering national commitment that recognises the extent of the danger posed by terrorism to the region and to its people,” said Gargash in a press release.
The assertions were in stark contrast to the incendiary remarks Biden uttered in an unguarded moment during a Q&A at Harvard University on Thursday, in which the official accused the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey of inciting radical Sunni elements to raise their weapons against Assad, who belongs to a sect of Shia Islam.
Islamist Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra members lookout for warplanes loyal to Syria’s president Bashar Al-Assad on Al-Khazan frontline of Khan Sheikhoun, northern Idlib province May 17, 2014.(Reuters / Hamid Khatib)
“What did they [the three countries] do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad – except that the people who were being supplied were Jabhat al-Nusra and al-Qaida and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world,” said Biden.
Biden has since officially apologized to Turkey, which was also quick to take offense, with President Tayyip Erdogan saying Biden could nowbe “history to me.”
Perhaps most frustrating for the politician with a history of loose-lipped statements is that Secretary of State John Kerry had made a virtually identical statement less than a fortnight earlier, saying that funding anti-Assad troops has been a “sloppy process” that led to the rise of ISIS. The statements had been voiced before, with Gulf states accused of funding militant groups fighting the Syrian government.
The US, which withdrew its troops from Iraq in 2011 and had avoided directly interfering in the Syrian conflict, has been dragged back into an armed confrontation with the Islamic State (IS, ISIS / ISIL). The radical Islamist organization has executed a series of successful offensives and has gained control over large swathes of Iraq and Syria since the summer.
A US-led coalition has responded with airstrikes, but is now contemplating a ground invasion to regain control of the region.