For the second time in two days, US Vice President Joe Biden called the head of a key Middle Eastern ally to apologise over remarks he made last week about American allies sending weapons and money to extremists fighting in Syria’s civil war.
Biden had apologized to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday. And on Sunday, the United Arab Emirates requested a “formal clarification” on the comments, which threatened a rift among the allies in the coalition fighting the group calling itself the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
The White House said Sunday night that Biden called Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and the deputy supreme commander of the UAE’s armed forces.
“The Vice President thanked the Crown Prince for the UAE’s strong support for the international coalition fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, as well as the UAE’s longstanding efforts as a stalwart fighter against violent extremism in Syria and throughout the region,” the White House said.
“He clarified that his recent remarks regarding the early stages of the conflict in Syria were not meant to imply that the UAE had facilitated or supported ISIL, al-Qaeda, or other extremist groups in Syria. The Vice President noted the UAE’s strong steps in countering extremist messaging and financing and expressed gratitude for their participation in ongoing military operations against ISIL.”
In a question-and-answer session with students at Harvard University last Thursday, Biden placed blame with US allies in the Middle East for the deteriorating situation in Syria’s civil war and for the rise of extremist groups like ISIS.
He said countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates were so focused on ousting Syrian President Bashar Assad that they did not properly vet the opposition groups to which they sent money and weapons.
“The Turks, who are great friends — I have a great relationship with Erdogan, whom I spend a lot of time with. The Saudis, the Emiratis, etc. What were they doing?” Biden said.
“They were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, 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 went further with comments on Turkey, some of which incensed Erdogan. Turkey’s president demanded an apology and threatened Biden would be “history for me” if he did not apologise.
Biden told the Harvard students that Erdogan had told him Turkey had erred in closing its porous border to foreign terrorist fighters. Erdogan said he never made such an admission to Biden.
“I have never said to him that we had made a mistake, never. If he did say this at Harvard, then he has to apologise to us,” Erdogan said, according to the Associated Press.
“Foreign fighters have never entered Syria from our country. They may come to our country as tourists and cross into Syria, but no one can say that they cross in with their arms.”