The United Arab Emirates, a neighbor and trading partner with Iran, is taking a closer look at government workers and foreign residents due to concerns about possible infiltration by Iranian agents, according to The Wall Street Journal
A directive reviewed by the WSJ indicated that since May, the U.A.E’s internal security service has been empowered to approve or reject all new appointments, promotions and assignments in all government ministries and agencies. Previously only sensitive posts required security clearances, the newspaper reported.
Some civil service workers—both Emirati citizens and expatriates—have been reassigned or stripped of responsibilities, and some private sector workers suspected of ties to Iranian-linked groups like Hezbollah, a Shiite militant group in Lebanon, have lost their jobs, according to the WSJ.
A government official told the newspaper that the possibility of Iranian-linked sleeper cells sabotaging critical sectors such as energy, banking and transportation is a “significant” security concern. A government spokesman, however, said that the May directive was not a response to a specific Iranian threat but was a part of continuing efforts to improve national security.
The WSJ report comes just days before the proposed 123 civil nuclear agreement between the United States and the U.A.E. is expected to come into force. Named for a section of the Atomic Energy Act, a 123 agreement creates the legal framework for American companies to transfer nuclear equipment or materials to foreign countries for civil or peaceful purposes. The U.A.E. agreement, which Emirati officials have aggressively pursued, will likely make the federation of emirates the first Arab country in the Persian Gulf to develop a nuclear power sector.
As reported in our October issue (see “Nuclear Energy Agreement Raises Concerns”
), lawmakers at a House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing in July expressed concerns about introducing nuclear technology into a volatile region, especially given the U.A.E.’s close trading relationship with Iran and questions about the country’s commitment to strengthening export controls to prevent illicit goods from passing through its ports.
At a Senate hearing this month, senators echoed the concerns about the U.A.E.’s relationship with Iran, but, like their colleagues in the House, praised the agreement for “requiring rigorous international inspections and a strict ban on enrichment and reprocessing technology,” according to Abu Dhabi-based English-language newspaper, The National
The U.A.E. 123 agreement was backed by the Bush Administration and is also supported by the Obama Administration. It will come into force this month unless Congress takes action against it.