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24 April 2024

US-UAE next 100 years relations to be strategised, Al Otaiba ‘one of best ambassadors in DC’: Envoy

Photo: WAM


The United States wants to implement a "long-term comprehensive strategy" with the UAE to ensure the relationship endures for the next "50 or 100 years," a top US diplomat said.

In an exclusive interview with the Emirates News Agency, WAM, the newly-appointed US Ambassador to the UAE, John Rakolta, also described the UAE’s Ambassador to the US, Yousef Al Otaiba, as one of the best ambassadors in Washington DC.

"The first four months have been enjoyable, revealing and interesting. The UAE is a special country that enjoys a strong and important relationship with the United States. The strength of our combined relationship is a beacon for the entire Middle East," said Rakolta, who arrived in Abu Dhabi in October 2019.

"The ability of perhaps implementing a long-term comprehensive strategy is necessary to ensure our relationship is enduring, not only for the next 10 or 20 years, but for 50 or 100 years," he added.

"The one key element I can bring some significant value to is developing the US-Emirati business interests in a comprehensive way that expands beyond just trade and gets into cross-investments in a significant way, and many other components necessary to transition from oil-based to knowledge-based economy."

The 72-year-old Rakolta who comes from a business background was nominated by US President Donald Trump to become his country’s envoy in Abu Dhabi. The U.S Senate confirmed his appointment in September 2019.

His previous job was chairman and chief executive of US$1.6 billion construction company Walbridge.

Asked how his career background would serve as an advantage to sustain and evolve the relations between the two allies, he answered, "I have probably better connections in the political structure in our country and I’m able to tap into it easier than [other] foreign service officers can."

"A businessman’s risk and tolerance has a higher index value than a career foreign service officer. I also have a higher propensity to not accept ‘no’ as an answer because I believe that there is always a solution," he added.

"All these reasons make me a different kind of ambassador. Not better, not worse, just different."

The bilateral trade between the US and UAE amounted to US$24.38 billion in 2019, according to the United States Census Bureau, making the UAE the largest export market in the Middle East for the US.

"The fundamentals of our relationship are mostly based on defence, counter-terrorism and energy. These are strong pillars that need to be nurtured and maintained," Detroit-born Rakolta said.

"Going forward, the integration of our economies would provide for a strong, long and enduring relationship," he added.

"Cross-investments, research and hubs of innovation, all partnered with the United States, would make for an enduring relationship that would survive in any challenge that we may confront in the future."

Rakolta said he sought advice from former US ambassadors to the UAE, Barbara Leaf, Michael Corbin and Richard Olson before taking up the job.

"They gave me general advice, [saying], ‘Be yourself, don’t try to emulate someone else, set your priorities, but not too early and stay true to your values, ones that you hold dear, which made you successful and made the US a great country,’" he revealed.

The top US diplomat spoke highly of the UAE’s ambassador in Washington DC, Yousef Al Otaiba, saying he first met him during the US General Assembly week in September 2019.

"We had lunch together and right away I could see that he and I are going to have a great relationship, as he is one of those charismatic persons you would find it easy to talk to," he said.

"He’s open and transparent, he shared his thoughts with me at the very first lunch and told me, ‘Whatever I can do to help, please let me know.’ Since then we have spoken on a very regular basis, perhaps even weekly.

"When there are little issues that need to be resolved, I feel free [to talk to him]. He has my cell phone number and I have his. I find him smart and trusting, and I have already asked him for some advice.

"I would say he’s one of the best, if not the best ambassador, in Washington DC today. That is my view [of him] during this short time in government the [US] administration sees him as a tremendous asset to the development and strength of our relationship," he went on to say.

Born to Romanian immigrants, the US Ambassador said that his grandfather had immigrated to the US in 1906 at the age of 13 to start over in an "open society that didn’t care where you came from."

He believes that the UAE reminds him of the American values, which he grew up to.

"It is a place where you could be accepted, start over, build a family, practise your religion and be free," he said.