The UAE’s Yousef Al Otaiba: the most influential Arab ambassador In Washington
Close to crown prince and foreign minister, Otaiba was a key player in making peace with Israel
Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the United Arab Emirates’ Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, arrived in Washington in Sunday.
The Sheikh (ABZ) — who is the younger brother of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ) — will be signing the peace treaty with Israel tomorrow.
Organizing every detail of the Sheikh’s visit is Yousef Al Otaiba.
Otaiba is not only the Emirati ambassador to the U.S. — a post he has held since July 2008 — he was promoted to the rank of cabinet minister in October 2017 and is a trusted counselor to both MBZ and ABZ.
Over the last four years, he has become close to President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and, importantly, to Jared Kushner, architect of the White House’s Middle East peace strategy, speaking regularly, even as he works hard to maintain equally close ties to Democrats on Capitol Hill.
What’s more, Otaiba has forged an intriguing working relationship over the years with Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S.
Conveniently, the Israeli embassy is right down the street from the UAE embassy — a short walk, if the Secret Service actually allowed the men to walk. In fact, in 2018 Otaiba and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were dining at the same D.C. restaurant and Otaiba invited Netanyahu and his wife Sara to join his table, where they spoke and shook hands before parting ways, according to media reports.
At the intersection of these critically important relationships, Otaiba, only 46, is uniquely suited to his pivotal role in this new UAE-Israeli peace treaty.
With the signing of the first Arab-Israeli peace treaty in nearly 26 years, Otaiba has emerged as the most influential Arab ambassador in Washington.
I first met Otaiba at his embassy in March 2018 and was immediately impressed by his flawless English, his direct, friendly, but no-nonsense manner and his passion to advance the interests of his country.
Our second meeting was in May of that year. It was then that he invited me to bring a delegation of Evangelical leaders to the visit Abu Dhabi to meet with the crown prince and other senior UAE officials, including pastors and Christian leaders ministering in the Gulf nation.
That trip took place in October 2018. It was the first time Evangelical leaders had ever been invited for such a visit by the government and made front page news throughout the region.
By early 2018, the UAE was dramatically expanding its Christian outreach, welcoming Pope Francis, who hosted an outdoor mass for more than 100,000 Roman Catholics living and working in the country.
In recent months, my contact with Otaiba intensified and by summer it became increasingly clear to me that his government was actively considering a major move with Israel.
Otaiba’s op-ed in Hebrew in July made it certain: The UAE was ready to make peace with Israel. The question was whether Netanyahu was ready to set aside talk of “annexation” to say yes to the UAE’s historic offer.
The president and senior White House and State Department officials were playing midwife, trying to bring the peace treaty to pass.
When it came together on Aug. 13, few people were more elated than Otaiba.
He knew what his crown prince and foreign minister wanted, and he demonstrated his extraordinary diplomatic skills to help get it done.