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Welcome to "Ask the Ambassador" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to U.S. Ambassadors around the world.

U.S. Chargé d'Affaires to the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) Martin R. Quinn, discussed U.S.-U.A.E. bilateral relations.

Thomas Riley, U.S. Ambassador to Morocco
Martin R. Quinn U.S. Chargé d'Affaires to the United Arab Emirates
Biography

Event Date: May 27, 2008


Mark in Illinois writes:

How large of a role do Foreign Service Officers play in our relations with the U.A.E.? How many Foreign Service Officers from America work in the U.A.E.?

Charge d'Affaires Quinn:

If I could answer the second half first, Mark, I'd say "not enough"! Foreign service officers are at the heart of our work with the U.A.E. on a very wide range of mutual interests. Aside from our role as official representatives of the U.S. Government, foreign service officers are a valuable link between Americans and U.A.E. citizens with common interests. Our political officers help U.S. officials and members of Congress meet and discuss issues with their counterparts and leaders in the U.A.E. government. Our economic and commercial officers help Washington understand the economic conditions of the country and make business connections that sustain a strong and growing trade relationship. Our consular officers interview U.A.E. (Emirati) businesspeople, students and tourists applying for visas and provide American Citizen Services to the approximately 28,000 Americans living and working in the Emirates. Public Diplomacy officers build our relations with local media, help Arab students find out more about studying in the U.S. and forge cooperative ties between American universities and the U.A.E. Just in the month of May, we will help the Secretaries of Education, Transportation and Treasury to visit the U.A.E., meet the government officials and business representatives they need to meet in order to further relations and cooperation in those fields.

We also have representatives from 12 U.S. Government departments and agencies in the U.S. Embassy and the U.S. Consulate General in Dubai, in addition to the Foreign Service Officers who work for the Department of State. Treasury, Justice, Homeland Security, Commerce, the U.S. Armed Forces, and even the U.S. Geological Survey. They are here to ensure that the U.S. and the U.A.E. have a solid framework of relations in which we can work together to understand our mutual interests, maintain good ties and cooperate for the benefit of both Americans and host country nationals.


Shannon in Australia writes:

How has U.S. foreign policy in relation to the U.A.E. changed in the past 50 years?

In what way has the U.S. political relationship with the U.A.E. changed and developed over the past fifty years and, in your opinion, does the U.S. view the U.A.E. as a potential ally if hostilities were to break out between the U.S. and Iran (given its close proximity to Iran)? Justin in Australia

Charge d'Affaires Quinn:

Well, Shannon and Justin, I'd have to say that our relations have changed as rapidly and profoundly as the U.A.E. itself has changed since it was founded in 1971. In the 1950s, the emirates that comprise the U.A.E. were part of the British Trucial States, dependent on fishing, trading and pearling. The beginning of oil exports in 1962 transformed the country, its economy and its society. Today, the U.A.E. is at the center of the region's business, banking, travel, tourism and finance networks. About 28,000 Americans live and work here, we have more than $13 billion dollars in trade, and the U.A.E. is a friend and ally on a number of strategic and diplomatic issues. Thinking of Mark's question above, just the number of people the U.S. Government has in Abu Dhabi and Dubai (and the fact that we’ve had to change buildings three times in Abu Dhabi just to keep up with the growth!) is a pretty good indicator of how our relations have grown. The easy way to say it is that every year we find the range of important bilateral as well as regional issues on which the U.S. and the U.A.E. can find mutually beneficial ways to cooperate and work together keeps increasing.


James in Illinois writes:

What is the average day's work load for you? What do you do? Who do you meet with?

Charge d'Affaires Quinn:

I'm not sure that we have average days here, James. They're all busy and active, and each one often brings a new challenge or issue. Part of our work as representatives of the U.S. Embassy includes meeting with senior U.A.E. government officials here to explain U.S. views and policies, and equally importantly, to hear their views and opinions and carry those back to Washington. We also meet with many American visitors to the U.A.E., from cabinet secretaries and members of Congress, to private businessmen, students and leaders of non-governmental organizations, to help them make their connections and better understand Emirati-American relations. Our team also tries to "run a building," as it were – managing the Embassy and coordinating the work of the many excellent foreign service officers and U.S. government employees who are experts in their fields – economics, law, consular affairs, administration and education, for example. It's a busy job, but the variety of interesting issues and people we engage with every day makes the work exciting and satisfying.


Marcus in St. Kitts and Nevis writes:

What's the difference between a Chargé d'Affaires and an Ambassador, and do you actually claim to be a real Ambassador?

Charge d'Affaires Quinn:

A good question, Marcus, because there is a difference. An Ambassador is the personal representative of the President of the United States, nominated by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, according to the Constitution. Sometimes, however, the Ambassador is not present – either because a former Ambassador has left post and a new one hasn't arrived – or even just because the Ambassador is on vacation (they do need a break every now and then, just like all of us). When that happens, the person who takes over as Chief of Mission is called a "Chargé d'Affaires", which is French for "tasked with the matter." And the reason we use that title is the answer to your second question –only an Ambassador nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate can use the title "Ambassador." My actual job title is Deputy Chief of Mission, but currently Charge d'Affaires ad interim.


Alice in Australia writes:

What would happen when an Ambassador dies?

Charge d'Affaires Quinn:

It hasn't happened often, Alice, but unfortunately it has happened. Very simply, another senior ranking officer at the Embassy, usually the Deputy Chief of Mission, would take over as Chargé d'Affaires until the President nominated a new Ambassador and that nominee was confirmed to the job by the U.S. Senate.


S in Washington, D.C. writes:

I just recently returned from Dubai and Abu Dhabi in March. I did not get the sense at all amongst the locals that the U.S. was well regarded, in fact, I got the opposite feeling, that there is a great deal of unspoken resentment against the U.S. simmering beneath the surface. It made me wonder what the U.A.E. Post was doing there in terms of outreach to the local citizenry. I think the question important, given that 2 of the 19 9/11 hijackers came out of Dubai. And what sort of anti-terrorism cooperation does the U.S. get from the U.A.E.? Are there memoranda of agreements between the U.A.E. and the U.S. regarding cooperation on terrorist matters?

Charge d'Affaires Quinn:

A very rich question with a lot of parts, S. Let's start from the bottom up.

The partnership between the U.S. and the U.A.E. on counterterrorism, especially counterterrorism financing, has been excellent and very important to the region as a whole. What a lot of people may not realize is that the stability, economy and prosperity of the U.A.E. are equally threatened by terrorism and that the country is very keenly aware of the threat. Our hosts have gone to great lengths to stop terrorist money from passing through the U.A.E. banking system, and to enact export controls that prevent sensitive technology from transiting the U.A.E. and falling into the hands of people and organizations that seek to attack the U.S. and our friends and allies.

While you're right that two of the nineteen 9-11 hijackers came from the U.A.E. (Ras al-Khaimah, actually, not Dubai) what many people don't know is how deeply shocked and disturbed many Emiratis, in government and in the private sector, were by that association. The family of the two hijackers subsequently repudiated them and one of the mothers of the hijackers actually met with the American mother of a 9-11 victim in the U.A.E. as a gesture towards apologizing for the actions of her misguided son.

In terms of outreach, it's the core of our mission here. We're definitely aware that people all over the Arab world have hard questions and concerns about U.S. policy in a very turbulent region. The first and most important thing we do is simply listen. You'd be surprised how much anxiety and tension we can dispel simply by listening and showing people that the U.S. genuinely cares about others' opinions and concerns, and wants to maintain a very candid and open dialogue. Our diplomats and officials regularly meet with government officials, students, businesspeople and media to explain our policies and frame the common issues that unite us against terrorists and extremists. We bring Americans here to talk to Arab audiences, and – very importantly – we encourage Arabs and Muslims to visit America and talk to American audiences, all with the goal of maintaining dialogue and building ties of friendship that help us understand and work together.


Don in Georgia writes:

Dubai is enjoying a building boom with some of the most opulent development in the world. The engine of this development is third-country national workers who, in many cases are treated like slaves. 1) What is the U.S. doing to apply pressure to U.A.E. to correct this situation? 2) Is the U.S. applying any pressure to U.A.E. (or other middle-eastern countries) to apply their wealth to assist impoverished nations with starving citizens, including Egypt who's right around the corner? Thank you for your service to our nation. I look forward to your response.

Charge d'Affaires Quinn:

Thank you for your question, Don. The expatriate labor question is a very sensitive one, of course, but one that we have not failed to raise with U.A.E. officials. We've found them to be aware that the situation needs improvement, particularly as the past couple of years of inflation -- rising prices and housing costs -- have eaten into salaries. The UAE has taken serious steps in the past to curb fraudulent recruiting and illegal trafficking in persons, and I think there's reason to believe that the trend toward positive action is in the right direction. Keep in mind that 80% of the residents of the U.A.E. are foreigners, non-natives, non-nationals. Coping with a large expatriate work forces is huge challenge for this small and rapidly developing country of just under 1 million citizens. Just a week ago (May 18), one of the country's leading newspapers, The National, put this headline on its front page: "Worker's rights concerns lead to labor overhaul."

In terms of sharing their wealth internationally, the U.A.E. is definitely stepping up to the plate. They regularly contribute generously to disaster relief ($100 million to the victims of the earthquake in Pakistan, contributions to Tsunami relief in 2005, and humanitarian relief efforts in Afghanistan and Burma). The U.A.E. even provided $100 million to the U.S. for the relief of victims of Hurricane Katrina in September 2005. Not many Americans know that fact. The Vice President of the UAE, Dubai's Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, has created two organizations – the Mohammed bin Rashid Foundation and Dubai Cares – to support education, particularly education of impoverished children. The former is aiming to accumulate a capital pool of $10 billion, which would make it the third largest foundation in the world. The latter raised an astonishing half billion dollars from public contributions, which Sheikh Mohammed then matched, dollar for dollar.


Malika in Sudan writes:

What is the steps U.S.A. made to install democracy in gulf? Can we say that U.S.A. is not making the needed efforts in order to push the region toward democracy?

Charge d'Affaires Quinn:

With all respect, Malika, we can't say that. Democracy, transparency, accountability and respecting the voice and the wishes of the people are integral parts of our diplomatic interactions in the U.A.E., the region and the world. It's important to note that we're not trying to install democracy anywhere. It's clear to us that a lot of people around the world want and are asking for democracy. They want the opportunity to participate in their governments and societies, and to have their voices heard and respected. So aside from simply advocating democracy, we are working with a whole range of institutions – non-governmental and, yes, governments themselves – through the Middle East Partnership Initiative and other programs to help build the institutions of civil society and develop citizen capacity and understanding, particularly among youth in this region, and that will help them apply the tools of democracy. Here in the U.A.E., the government has taken an important step forward, making democracy and citizen participation an essential element of the school curriculum and in holding limited elections to its Federal National Council in December 2006.


Imran in Dominican Republic writes:

What do you think of the women's empowerment process in the Arab societies in general and in the Emirates society specifically? What is being done by the U.S. Embassy in U.A.E. under your direction to attain the objective of female empowerment? Starting with having women issued the drivers' licenses for a start.

Charge d'Affaires Quinn:

Imran, my observation has been that Emirati women themselves are at the leading edge of efforts to empower women – and I can tell you that women here are most definitely allowed to drive! When the first President of the U.A.E., Sheikh Zayed, founded the public school system, he did so for both men and women, with identical curricula -- though in separate classes. The university that bears his name – Zayed University – founded in 1998, was created exclusively for women, and offers them a first-rate, 21st century education in communications, business, technology, science and social studies. Many officers in the Embassy have had the privilege of speaking to classes at the high schools and universities here, including me. Emirati women are often well-educated and well-spoken, and not generally reluctant to ask serious, intelligent and tough questions. Women hold prominent places in business, politics and leadership in the U.A.E., including four Ministers and forty members of the Federal National Council, the U.A.E. parliament. We've focused on supporting and encouraging Emirati women seeking to build institutions and make connections with American institutions and individuals, not just in the field of women's empowerment, but in the fields where Emirati women are already quite empowered – business, law, politics, education, medicine, communication and the arts.


Samatha in Pennsylvania writes:

The United Arab Emirates is perceived as being a country more liberal than the rest of the Middle Eastern countries, although it lies next to the most conservative Middle Eastern country, Saudi Arabia. Why is the U.A.E. more liberal and do you see, in the future, Middle Eastern countries adapting their views to that of the successful U.A.E.?

Charge d'Affaires Quinn:

Every society has to grapple with different circumstances, Samantha, so I won't try to compare how different countries wrestle with the conflicting demands of tradition and modernity. What I'd say about the U.A.E. is that I think they're trying to find a balance between preserving their heritage, culture and tradition (their identity), and being – as their own leaders have said many times – open to the world and to approaching the rest of the world with appreciation for cultural differences and toleration for others. That's not an easy task and it takes constant work, but the U.A.E. is managing it about as well as any society I've experienced. I do think that the U.A.E. has ideas and models to offer the Arab and Muslim world, particularly in the areas of educational reform and encouraging transparent investment, and the example they set for tolerance, diversity and respect for cultural and religious difference is a poignant answer to extremists who would claim that different people can't live together peaceably.


Salman in U.A.E. writes:

I am a U.S. citizen in the U.A.E. I wanted to inquire that there are any plans to relocate Dubai consulate as it is at a very inconvenient place for many reasons. I have seen people stand in lines early in morning outside in heat which is very improper. We should have a place that matches our country's great stature in the world and our consulate should be a place where people should feel comfortable coming to.

Charge d'Affaires Quinn:

Salman, I could not agree with you more, and that's why I'm very happy to be able to tell you that we are going to break ground this year on a new U.S. Consulate building in Dubai. It will be in Bur Dubai, near the British and Saudi Consulates, and should be open for business in 2011. As you may know, after many years of operating in cramped quarters, we opened a new embassy in Abu Dhabi in March 2004.


Alan in Texas writes:

Is there any kind of help for Americans trying to find Information Technology jobs in Dubai? What is the best place to locate information about jobs there? Thanks.

Charge d'Affaires Quinn:

With about 750 American companies – and thousands of others – in the U.A.E., there are always people looking for qualified IT experts, Alan. Local newspapers (such as Gulf News) have large classified sections, and you might also get in contact with the American Business Council of Dubai and the American Business Group Abu Dhabi.


Greg in Texas writes:

Mr. Quinn, what advice would you give to graduate students interested in becoming Foreign Service Officers in the Middle East?

Charge d'Affaires Quinn:

Greg, thanks very much for your question. I would very much encourage graduate students to consider a career in the U.S. Foreign Service. Many FSOs enter the service with graduate degrees in a variety of fields ranging from business to law to liberal arts and even the sciences. People with organizational and project management skills and good decision-making and judgment should definitely consider the Foreign Service as a way of life. Knowing or having an interest in learning Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew and/or Turkish, and being curious about the culture of the greater Middle East region are all positive indicators in my opinion. I would include an appetite for adventure and willingness to serve in difficult and challenging conditions, to meet and to interact with people from different backgrounds, as significant predisposing characteristic. Feeling a bit of patriotism, the desire serve and to represent the United States abroad also helps. I entered the Foreign Service exactly 25 years ago Memorial Day weekend after a 9-year academic career and have enjoyed all my foreign and domestic assignments -- and have never regretted the decision to enter the service of my country. For me personally it has been a highly satisfying career: it is fun sometimes to reflect back on 25 years and to be able to recall in rather precise detail what I was doing, the places I lived, and the fascinating people I met in each of those years in several countries in the Middle East. The past, for me and for other FSOs, does not just all blend together. I don't think I would trade that for anything.


Toufic in Lebanon writes:

How come we see no comment on your State Department website on the summit in Doha next door to your Embassy? Especially since your government is very concerned about Lebanon? Thank you.

Charge d'Affaires Quinn:

Actually, Secretary of State Rice issued such a statement on May 21; you can find it on the State Department website at: http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2008/05/105067.htm and remarks on the topic by Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs C. David Welch at: http://www.state.gov/p/nea/rls/rm/105104.htm.


Joseph in Ohio writes:

Do you believe the price of oil is the result of the war in Iraq or it is the supply and demand factor from China and India? Perhaps, both?

Charge d'Affaires Quinn:

That's a tough and highly complex economic question, Joseph, but I think it is far more the latter than the former. Net importers are clearly affected by high oil prices, while many oil exporters -- like the U.A.E. -- feel that oil prices at $60/barrel (as opposed to $130/barrel) would be just fine with them and they would like to see stable world oil prices -- as in their own long term economic benefit as well. Many oil exporters have substantial investments in oil consuming countries. Some economists claim that there is even an oversupply in the market, and the current oil price rise stems from lack of refining capacity and is also connected to the weak dollar. I would refer you to professional economists, Joseph, for the best answer to that one.


Nina in Florida writes:

How do you feel about the war? Do you believe it should still be going on?

Charge d'Affaires Quinn:

As difficult and as troubling as the circumstances of any war may be, Nina, the war in Iraq is part of a much larger conflict that the civilized world – not just Americans, but Europeans, Asians, Arabs, Christians and Muslims all – have had thrust upon us. It's an ideological struggle between reasonable men and women who wish to live in peace, and radicals and extremists who perpetrate hatred and chaos. It is, as President Bush and other leaders have said, a struggle between civilization and chaos. A struggle where decent, progressive, civilized people – Americans and Arabs, of all religious backgrounds and persuasions – are and should be on the same side. However difficult any single battle or war in that conflict may be, this is the struggle that our generation must face and it's important to the world and future generations that we succeed in turning the tide against terror and extremism and do our best to promote unity, democracy, pluralism, and stable government in Iraq. The Iraqi people, who suffered too long under a tyrannical dictatorship, as well as their neighbors in the region deserve as much.


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