Ro Khanna meets with the UAE Ambassador

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MP Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) (Instagram / Ro Khanna’s Office)

Why would the ambassador of a country with only 1.5 million people feel able to yell at a member of the US Congress? “Because for decades we have pursued a foreign policy that has put your interests before our own,” wrote Trita Parsi, co-founder and executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. in a tweet. “We created this monster.”

Rep. Ro Khanna’s efforts to end US support for the war in Yemen enraged the United Arab Emirates Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba that he went to the California Democrat’s office and yelled at the congressman during a meeting, said Khanna.

“I’ve never had an ambassador from another country come into my office and literally yell at me, but I did that with the ambassador to the UAE,” said Khanna during an interview for the Intercept podcast “Deconstructed”.

Khanna was the main sponsor of a resolution to end US involvement in the war in Yemen led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and was shocked by the ambassador’s yelling.

“I was just taken away,” said Khanna. “It made me think there was a real arrogance, a real sense of legitimacy, a feeling that he thought he was so powerful that he could act like that. And I’ve never seen that before … Me just thought this was an indication of how deeply ingrained those interests are. “

While the January 2017 sworn congressman is relatively new to Washington, Otaiba is well known in the more dilute circles of the Washington establishment. Three years ago the Huffington Post published an article about him that teased, “Yousef Al Otaiba is the most charming man in Washington: he’s smart, he’s savvy and he’s throwing a damn good party.” And if he has his way, our Middle East policy will be much more aggressive. “

The UAE and Saudi Arabia have been waging war against the Houthi forces in Yemen since 2015. The war killed 100,000 people in Yemen, including more than 12,000 civilians, and an estimated 85,000 deaths from famine resulting from the war, according to ACLED. After six years of war in Yemen, 2.3 million children under the age of 5 were exposed to acute malnutrition in 2021, with 400,000 of those children at risk of dying without urgent treatment, according to the United Nations World Food Program.

Otaiba is a key figure in the UAE’s Washington game of influence. He was often seen eating and eating members of the Obama administration and Congress; The four seasons in Georgetown were his favorite power breakfast spot, the Huffington Post reported.

“He doesn’t work at the tables. People come to him,” says a regular. He’s the perfect guest at dinner in Washington: A Muslim who raises a glass and gives insight into the volatile politics of the region. “He’s incredibly accomplished “says a former White House advisor.” He makes great social events. He understands how Washington works, how the hill works, which many of these countries don’t. He knows the dynamics and knows how to pit different entities against each other if need be. ”Richard Burr, Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says,“ I’ve probably spent more time with Yousef than anyone else. ”

… “He affects certain parts of the hill and makes them doubt what it is [Obama] Government is doing regarding Iran. And it feels less partisan because it’s not Israel, but an Arab country, ”said the second senior US official. The first senior US official added that Otaiba and Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer are very close to one another. “They agree on almost everything,” he says. (With the exception of the Palestinians, he clarified.)

The UAE held several key positions that brought it into conflict with the Obama administration: the Gulf state protested bitterly against Obama’s Iranian nuclear deal; helped fund the overthrow of Muslim Brotherhood-backed Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi; and launched secret bombing raids in Libya with Egypt in August 2014 to aid anti-Islamist forces. The UAE also temporarily withdrew to aid the US in Syria.

After Obama resigned from office, Otaiba made himself comfortable in the Middle East with Trump’s son-in-law and peace agreement architect Jared Kushner. Kushner often left the State Department in the dark as he worked diplomatic return channels, which suited Otaiba very well. Then-Foreign Secretary Rex Tillerson was surprised when Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates reportedly announced their blockade of Yemen. Tillerson later urged the two nations to end a planned invasion of Qatar, after which Tillerson was fired. Saudi Arabia and UAE leaders later claimed they edited her return channels and close relationship with Kushner to tweet Tillerson.

These decisions all show Otaiba, Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s growing regional power and influence during the Obama and Trump years. At one time, it would have been unthinkable for a diplomat from a small country to yell at a congressman from a nuclear power plant like the United States.

“But the UAE is now seeing itself as part of the management team when it comes to overseeing the US-led Western global project,” reports Intercept. “Otaiba’s attitude towards Khanna reflects the development of the world’s ruling elite.”

Khanna had earned Otaiba’s wrath by sponsoring efforts at the House that would end US support for the Saudi war in Yemen. The legislation was in line with a resolution by the forces of the war that Senator Bernie Sanders introduced in the Senate in 2017. In 2019, the resolution passed both chambers, but Trump vetoed it.

A UAE representative in Washington, DC denies that the ambassador raised his voice in Khanna, but the resulting controversy has led to an interesting development. Last week Otaiba invited Khanna, outspoken opponent of the war in Yemen, to join the diplomat on his official podcast.

“For over thirteen years in Washington and longer in the public service, I’ve raised many issues with many people – but I’ve never raised my voice,” said Otaiba wrote to Khanna. “To express my point of view directly and calmly is more my style. And that’s how I remember all of our meetings. Let’s prove that two passionate advocates can have another direct and calm discussion about serious issues. “

In an official letter, Khanna replied that he would not be able to appear on Otaiba’s podcast if the diplomat did not use his leverage to secure the release of Adel Al-Hasani, a prominent Yemeni journalist who had been with the UAE for over five months associated forces is imprisoned. Al Hasani’s lawyer said he was tortured in prison and is in poor health.

“At the moment, it would be inappropriate for me to appear on your podcast while a well-known journalist is imprisoned with the support of your government,” wrote Khanna in the letter. “Al-Hasani’s release [would] underscore the central role the UAE can play in building bridges between diverse groups in the Middle East and the US, and how our two nations can help end the war in Yemen. “

As one of his first foreign policy measures, President Joe Biden ended US support for Saudi Arabia-led offensive operations. Khanna said he was not ready to reintroduce his resolution on the war forces because he wanted to give the Biden government and regional armed forces time to end the conflict.

“Activists must now campaign for President Biden to say,” All bombing and war funding for Yemen must stop, “said Khanna.” We have a moral duty to act to end the war, and not just that to wash our hands with it. We can always tell the Saudis that if they keep bombing, we will stop supplying tires for their planes. “

The peculiar arc of this story, from the yelling about the dissolution of the war forces to the podcast invitation, shows everything that we don’t see so often in Washington: the power that individual members of Congress can wield if they so choose it.



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