Yousef Al Otaiba
Yousef Al Otaiba
|UAE Ambassador to the United States|
|Assumed office |
July 28, 2008
|President||Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan|
|Preceded by||Saqr Ghobash|
|Born||January 19, 1974|
|Spouse(s)||Abeer Al Otaiba|
|Relations||Aunt Moza Saeed Al Otaiba|
|Children||Samia Al Otaiba|
Omar Al Otaiba
|Parents||Mana Al Otaiba|
Yousef Al Otaiba (Arabic: يوسف العتيبة) is the current United Arab Emirates ambassador to the United States and Minister of state. Previously Al Otaiba served as non-resident ambassador to Mexico. His father is Petroleum magnate Mana Al Otaiba, who served as the president of OPEC a record six times.
Otaiba was born 1974 in Abu Dhabi into a wealthy merchant family. His father was the UAE's first Minister of Petroleum, Mana Saeed Al Otaiba, one of the country's key non-royal founding members as well as a close confidant to the late UAE founder and President Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (1918–2004). His father had at least 12 children with 4 wives, including Otaiba's Egyptian mother. Otaiba was raised in Cairo by his mother, from whom he is the only child. Although he got a first-rate liberal arts high school education (at the time the premier Cairo American College), and, while there, introduced himself to Frank G. Wisner, then the US ambassador to Egypt, Otaiba likes to reflect on his "modest upbringing".
After completing high school in 1991, Yousef studied international relations at Georgetown University, it was Wisner, one of Otaiba's mentors, who encouraged the young Al Otaiba to go to Washington, D.C.. The UAE embassy claims that Otaiba obtained a degree in international relations from Georgetown University. However, in 2017, The Intercept reported Georgetown University's office of the registrar claims he never graduated.
Otaiba subsequently spent the next three years working for the automotive division of his family's firm, the Al Otaiba Group. His father's firm lost of the prestigious General Motors/Cadillac agency in Abu Dhabi after a bitter 11-year dispute over non-performance. Otaiba was then selected to attend the International Fellow at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces (ICAF) at the National Defense University in Washington, in preparation for an assignment to join the immediate staff of then UAE Armed Forces Chief of Staff Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a position he assumed upon graduating from ICAF in 2000. The former CENTCOM Commander, General Anthony Zinni was another of Otaiba's mentors.
Otaiba and his wife, Abeer, founder of a luxury fashion company, have one son, Omar, and one daughter, Samia.
At age 26, Otaiba became senior adviser to Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and, until his new posting, as director of international affairs for the court of the crown prince, he also served as the country's principal security, anti-terrorism and defence liaison with other governments. Bin Zayed was deputy supreme commander of the UAE Armed Forces, so in effect Otaiba worked for the UAE's defense minister for eight years.
In 2006 and 2007 Otaiba's role was described by Kristofer Harrison, a Defense and State Department advisor during the George W. Bush administration who worked closely with Otaiba, as "crucial helping to talk other countries in the region into backing President George W. Bush's troop surge in the Iraq War". A role that was confirmed by Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr. Otaiba's most significant contribution was "persuading other Gulfies to support the political components of the surge (e.g. the Anbar Awakening), and helping 'translate' the general strategy into something they would support".
June 22, 2008 Otaiba was elevated to UAE ambassador to the United States. He succeeded Saqr Ghobash, who had served as ambassador since March 2006. Upon his arriving in the capital, Otaiba hired Amy Little-Thomas, a former State Department staffer in the Bush administration, who became the UAE embassy's chief of protocol and he created the nonprofit ″Oasis Foundation″, his private foundation in connection with his work as ambassador "to advance positive relations between the UAE, a significant American ally (particularly in the Middle East), and the United States.” Court documents later disclosed deposits of millions of dollars to Oasis accounts, which were by turns frozen or shut down for suspicious activity. Otaiba worked closely with Howard Berman, then the Democratic chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on an agreement that would allow the UAE to obtain nuclear materials from the US for a civilian program.
In July 2010, remarks made by Otaiba, were interpreted as supporting a United States military strike on nuclear reactors in Iran. Otaiba's remarks are reported to be the standard position of many Arab states.
From 2015 onwards Otaiba was a leading voice in Washington for the War in Yemen, where the UAE operated torture warehouses and funded death squads. The conflict has left more than 10,000 dead, millions starving (Famine in Yemen) and a cholera epidemic of historic proportions.
The UAE was the first nation to obtain the US military's Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system - the first batch of UAE officers and airmen graduated from training on the system in December 2015.
In the run-up to President Trump's Riyadh Summit with Islamic leaders on 20–21 May 2017 strong bonds reportedly formed between Otaiba and President Trump's advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and minister of defense Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia. Otaiba and Kushner first met June 2017 at the behest of Thomas Barrack, a billionaire investor and Trump backer.
Otaiba is generally seen as being a successful ambassador for the UAE, as the country asserts itself more aggressively in the sphere of foreign policy. In November 2017 it was announced that he had been promoted to the rank of Minister, while remaining the ambassador to the United States.
In early June 2017, a hacker group calling itself “GlobalLeaks” began distributing hacked emails stolen from the inbox of Al Otaiba. According to The Intercept, the leaked emails revealed how Al Otaiba prior to being an ambassador lived a double life as a party-goer with his friends in Washington D.C., New York, Los Angeles, and Abu Dhabi. According to The Intercept, one of Al Otaibas friends, Roman Paschal, expressed that he allegedly observed the exploitation of trafficked girls in Abu Dhabi. The hackers reached out to The Daily Beast in email to offer a sample of the messages which The Daily Beast described that the content "fall short of the explosive revelations hinted at in the cover letter". Among other websites, the hackers provided Huffington Post with another batch of leaked emails from Otaiba, ranging between 2014 and 2017, showing that the UAE supported moving the US Al Udeid Air Base out of Qatar. According to Arab News, a direct invitation to publish the emails were turned down by major news outlets except for The Intercept, which commentators expressed was because there is no “smoking gun” in the emails and "all they reveal is an envoy who has Arab interests at heart" and criticizes countries that support extremism. The New York Times further reported how the US had allegedly supported Abu Dhabi in hosting a Taliban embassy, which can be referenced to separate leaked email dated January 28, 2012. The hacked email allegedly contains a message written by Otaiba to another American official about an angry call from his foreign minister Abdullah bin Zayed who was unhappy they were not able to host the Taliban embassy. Al Otaiba stated that the UAE was encouraged by the US to host a Taliban embassy and the UAE offer to the Taliban was only if the Taliban denounced al-Qaeda and its founder, Osama Bin Laden, recognized the Afghan Constitution, and renounced violence and lay down their weapons. The Taliban refused these conditions and the UAE rescinded their offer to host the Taliban Embassy in Abu Dhabi.
According to The New York Times, the hacked emails appeared to benefit Qatar while trying to embarrass the United Arab Emirates and are believed to be the work of hackers working for Qatar. Part of the emails leaked included ex-Al Jazeera journalist and Otaiba's high school friend Mohamed Fahmy asking Al Otaiba for a loan with a sum of $250,000 to allegedly cover his legal fees in his $100 million lawsuit against the Qatari news organization and in a later email confirming that the money was received. Fahmy has acknowledged that he received a loan from Al Otaiba that he has sent to a "third party", denying taking the money himself stating, “I have not received a penny from Yousef”.
The hacked Emails revealed how Otaiba bought UAE influence in Washington. As of 2013, the UAE spent more money on lobbying than any other foreign government, in 2015, the UAE paid the US lobbying firms $13.5 million, with $6,5 million going to the Camstoll Group, that was operated by former US Treasury officials who had been responsible for relations with Gulf state and Israel as well as countering funding of terrorism, and $4.5 million to Harbor Group.
In another leaked email correspondence with Robert Malley, an ex-chief adviser on the Middle East, Otaiba criticized Donald Trump's election victory, remarking "On what planet can Trump be a president".
Leaked documents to The Wall Street Journal implicate Otaiba in the multibillion-dollar corruption scandal surrounding the Malaysian state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB1) (1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal). The WSJ reported that Otaiba's leaked emails included descriptions of meetings between Shaher M. Awartani, Otaiba's an Abu Dhabi-based business partner, and "Jho Low, the Malaysian financier the [US] justice department says was the central conspirator in the alleged $4.5 billion 1MDB fraud." Companies connected to Otaiba received $66 million (£50.6m, €57.7m) from offshore accounts that contained money allegedly embezzled from 1MDB. They include ″Densmore Investments Ltd.″ in the tax haven British Virgin Islands and ″Silver Coast Construction & Boring″ in the UAE.
One of the documents obtained by The Intercept was an invoice from the Center for a New American Security, an influential national security think tank founded in 2007 by alumni from the Clinton administration. The invoice, dated July 12, 2016, billed the UAE embassy $250,000 for a paper on the legal regime governing the export of military-grade drones.
In the leaked emails, Al Otaiba responded to a 2008 email about Saudi religious police's 2008 decision to ban red roses on Valentine's Day and called it "f***in' coo coo!". In other emails, he described how the Emiratis have had a more bad history with Saudi's than anyone else and has warred against them for 200 years over Wahhabism. In the emails, he praises Mohammed bin Salman as a reformer, describing him as "on a mission to make the Saudi government more efficient".
In November 2017, leaked emails showed that Otaiba allegedly hired Banque Havilland to draw up a plan on how to start a financial war against Qatar. Since 5 June 2017, several countries abruptly cut off diplomatic relations with Qatar for their alleged support for terrorism.
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