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UAE reportedly close to deal with Taliban to run Afghan airport

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The Taliban and the UAE are poised to strike a deal for the Gulf nation to run Kabul Airport and several others in Afghanistan that could be announced within weeks, according to sources familiar with the negotiations, Reuters reports.

The Taliban, whose government remains an international pariah without formal recognition, have courted regional powers, including Qatar and Turkiye, to operate Kabul airport, landlocked Afghanistan’s main air link with the world, and others.

But after months of back-and-forth talks and, at one point, raising the possibility of a joint UAE-Turkiye-Qatar deal, the Taliban is set to hand the operations in their entirety to the UAE, which had previously run Afghan airports, the sources said.

An agreement would help the Islamist militants ease their isolation from the outside world as they govern an impoverished country beset by drought, widespread hunger and economic crisis. It would also hand Abu Dhabi a win in its diplomatic tussle with Qatar for influence.

Under the deal with the UAE, Afghans will be employed at the airports, including in security roles, crucial for the Taliban who want to show they can create jobs but also because they staunchly oppose the presence of foreign forces, sources said.

An Emirati state-linked contractor had been contracted to provide security services, which should be announced soon, while negotiations over airspace management are ongoing, they said.

The militants, in May, awarded the ground services contract to UAE state-linked, GAAC, which was involved in running security and ground handling services at Afghan airports before the Taliban takeover, shortly after Taliban officials had visited Abu Dhabi.

Security contract

Meanwhile, Qatar and Turkiye’s joint negotiations with the Taliban broke down around the same time, sources said.
Emirati officials had no immediate comment when contacted by Reuters. GAAC did not respond to a request for comment.

A Taliban Transport Ministry spokesman confirmed an aviation security contract had already been signed with the UAE, but said the air traffic contract was not finalised or confirmed yet.

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There is little direct commercial benefit in the airport operations, but Kabul airport would provide a key source of intelligence on movements in and out of the country, Western officials say.

The sources said UAE airlines, which have not flown to Afghanistan since the Taliban take-over last year, were expected to resume flights to Kabul and possibly other Afghan airports after the deal was finalised.

Other airlines, which have stayed away, too, could also again operate flights if the UAE deal can address substantial security concerns, including the threat posed by the Afghan branch of ISIS or Daesh, whose targets have included the Taliban.

In the months leading up to the ground services being awarded to the UAE, the Taliban repeatedly made unexplained changes to its team negotiating with Qatar and Turkiye, the sources said.

Then the Taliban sought to alter agreed terms by upping airport fees and taxes and weaken Qatar and Turkiye’s control over revenue collection, they added.

A Qatari official had no immediate comment when contacted by Reuters. A Turkish official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed talks with the Taliban had stopped “some time ago”.

The UAE’S efforts are part of a quiet but assertive push by Abu Dhabi to expand longstanding ties with the Taliban that have included government aid and diplomatic efforts in the months since the hard-line militants took power in August.

Gulf rivalries

Western officials say Abu Dhabi sees Afghanistan, which shares a large land border with UAE’s Gulf neighbour, Iran, as part of its wider backyard and so believes it has legitimate interests in the country’s political and economic stability.

But those officials also say the UAE is keen to counter the influence in Afghanistan of Qatar, a Gulf State lauded by Western nations for serving as gateway to the Taliban, but a rival of Abu Dhabi’s, in a contest for regional influence.
Western officials worry that rivalry is now playing out in Afghanistan. The UAE, along with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain, cut ties with Qatar from 2017 until 2021, as part of a long-running, bitter dispute between the two rich Gulf States that was largely resolved last year.

Qatar has hosted the Taliban’s political office in Doha, long one of few places to meet the militants and where the United States negotiated with the militants to withdraw from Afghanistan.

© The Middle East Monitor

Journalist for 25 years with leading publications in India and UAE such as The National, Mumbai Mirror, DNA, Indian Express and former Sports Editor of eIndia.com. Now managing editor of Headline.ae, part of MEMc (https://www.memc.co)

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King Charles to deliver opening address at COP28 in Dubai

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King Charles III is to make an opening speech at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai, Buckingham Palace announced on Wednesday. The monarch will address world leaders at the opening ceremony on December 1. After his speech, he will “take the opportunity to have meetings with regional leaders”, a Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said. The king, who is widely known for his environmental activism, was invited to Cop28 by President Sheikh Mohamed.

King Charles III is famous for his love of the environment, and he has been an advocate for organic farming and preventing climate change. He will attend the COP28 Business and Philanthropy Climate Forum, which runs alongside the event. He will also speak at COP28 on 1 December and is expected to share his vision for the future. He is no stranger to sharing these views with world leaders, as he previously spoke at Glasgow’s COP26 in 2021 and COP21 in Paris in 2025.

In 1989, the then Prince Charles and Princess Diana undertook their first trip to the UAE. The nine-day tour included visits to Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. The pair met Sheikh Zayed, the Founding Father of the UAE, at his majlis in Al Ain. 

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UAE’s historic space mission ends with astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi’s return

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UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi and his fellow Crew-6 members have successfully returned to Earth, concluding their historic space mission. The crew members safely disembarked from the Dragon Endeavour spacecraft with assistance from SpaceX recovery personnel. Al Neyadi, the last to exit the spacecraft, completed the process exactly one hour after the splashdown.

Crew-6’s remarkable space mission spanned an impressive 186 days, setting a new record as the longest mission in Arab history. The Dragon capsule made a secure touchdown off the Florida coast at 8:17 am on a Monday, with Al Neyadi emerging from the Dragon spacecraft just an hour later. During this mission, Al Neyadi achieved significant milestones, elevating the UAE’s status in the global space arena. He completed the longest-ever space mission by an Arab, spending six months aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and conducting groundbreaking scientific experiments for the betterment of humanity and scientific advancement.

As Sultan Al Neyadi, the UAE’s second astronaut, emerged from the Dragon spacecraft, he greeted onlookers with a smile and a wave. It’s worth noting that astronauts returning from extended periods in space often experience an adjustment period as they readapt to Earth’s gravity. The recovery process for the crew may take up to two hours to ensure their well-being after this remarkable mission.

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UAE’s economic agreements with Turkey and Indonesia spring into action

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The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is entering a new era of economic collaboration with two rapidly growing global players as it activates two of its Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreements (CEPAs). The UAE-Türkiye CEPA and the UAE-Indonesia CEPA have officially come into force, setting the stage for enhanced trade and investment cooperation.

The primary goal of these CEPAs is to foster economic ties by doubling non-oil trade. The UAE-Türkiye CEPA aims to elevate bilateral non-oil trade to an impressive $40 billion within five years, while the UAE’s CEPA with Indonesia seeks to push non-oil trade beyond $10 billion within the same timeframe. These agreements also aim to facilitate investment projects valued at $10 billion in various sectors.

In the words of HE Al-Zeyoudi, “The implementation of our CEPAs with Türkiye and Indonesia marks a significant step forward in our foreign trade program. Both agreements will unlock significant opportunities for our private sector in two of the world’s most dynamic centers of growth.”

These CEPAs are the third and fourth of their kind to come into force for the UAE, following successful agreements with India in May 2022 and Israel in April 2023. They are a testament to the UAE’s foreign trade agenda, strategically forging robust economic connections with nations of global importance. Both CEPAs promise to reduce or remove tariffs on a wide range of goods, eliminate trade barriers, and create pathways for investments in vital sectors like logistics, energy, food production, fintech, e-commerce, and travel and tourism.

The UAE-Indonesia CEPA, inked in Abu Dhabi in July 2022, aims to significantly boost bilateral non-oil trade from $4.08 billion to over $10 billion within five years. Additionally, the agreement targets a combined trade in services worth $630 million by 2030. Notably, over 80 percent of UAE exports to Indonesia will now be exempt from customs duties under this pact. This partnership also has an eye on nurturing the rapidly expanding Islamic economy, projected to reach $3.2 trillion by 2024. It will accelerate investment projects worth $10 billion across sectors like agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and logistics. The UAE-Türkiye CEPA is equally impactful, having eliminated or reduced customs duties on 82 percent of product lines, accounting for more than 93 percent of bilateral non-oil trade. Türkiye was the UAE’s fastest-growing top ten trading partner in 2022, witnessing a 40 percent increase in non-oil trade to $18.9 billion. The newly liberalized trade environment is set to drive this figure to an impressive $40 billion within the next five years.

HE Al Zeyoudi also stressed that the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreements play a vital role in attaining the nation’s objectives, in particular the vision laid out in “We The UAE 2031”, which seeks to double the UAE’s non-oil foreign trade to AED4 trillion and elevate national exports to AED800 billion. The recently published statistics from H1, 2023, which show a record non-oil foreign trade value of AED1.239 trillion for the first six months of the year, demonstrate that the UAE is firmly on track – and that the CEPA program will help maintain this upward trajectory.

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