Vice President Joe Biden on Sunday called the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates to clarify that he did not mean to imply in his remarks last week that the Gulf ally was supporting al-Qaida fighters in Syria, the White House said.
Biden spoke with Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and a key Emirati leader, the White House said.
It was the second time in two days that Biden had to call a key partner in President Barack Obama’s coalition to walk back comments he made on Thursday, when he said that U.S. allies, including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, had funded and armed extremist groups linked to al-Qaeda.
Earlier Sunday, an exasperated UAE requested “a formal clarification” from Biden on comments that America’s allies in the Middle East sent weapons and cash to extremists fighting in Syria.
The White House said Biden clarified his remarks and recognized the UAE’s “strong steps” to counter extremists and participation in U.S.-led airstrikes against Islamic State militants. The White House statement said Biden’s remarks regarding the early stages of the Syrian civil war “were not meant to imply that the UAE had facilitated or supported” al-Qaeda, the Islamic State group or other extremists in Syria.
The UAE’s official news agency said Biden had “apologized to UAE for any implications in his recent statements that were understood to mean that UAE has backed the growth of some of the terrorist organizations in the region.”
The UAE is a key Arab partner in the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group and has targeted its fighters in airstrikes in Syria. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Jordan also have carried out airstrikes against the group in Iraq and Syria, while Qatar has provided logistical support.
On Saturday, Biden already called to apologize to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the White House said in an earlier statement.
“The vice president apologized for any implication that Turkey or other allies and partners in the region had intentionally supplied or facilitated the growth of ISIL or other violent extremists in Syria,” the White House said, using an acronym for the Islamic State group
Biden’s comments on Thursday came during a question-and-answer session at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Biden said that “our biggest problem is our allies” who are engaged in a proxy Sunni-Shiite war against Syrian President Bashar Assad. He specifically named Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
“What did they 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 al-Nusra and al-Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world,” Biden said at the time.
The UAE’s official news agency carried a statement from Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash calling Biden’s comments “far from the truth.” The UAE Foreign Ministry said it was astonished by the remarks.
Gargash said the American vice president “gave a negative and inaccurate impression” about the UAE’s support in confronting the Islamic State group and terrorism. He said Biden’s statement ignored the political and practical steps taken by the UAE, as well as its position against terrorism financing.
One can’t help but be reminded of former Defense Secretary Bob Gates comment about Vice President Biden when he said, “ (Biden’s) foreign policy judgment has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”