Otaiba was born on January 19, 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. He went to Cairo American College
, a pre-K–12 international American school, and, while there, introduced himself to Frank G. Wisner
, then the US ambassador to Egypt.
After completing high school in 1991, Frank Wisner, one of Otaiba's mentors, encouraged him to go to Washington, D.C. and attend Georgetown University,
where Otaiba would then enroll in the Walsh School of Foreign Service program.
This became the start of a long-term relationship between Otaiba and Georgetown University with Otaiba having joined the Georgetown School of Foreign Service Greater Leadership Seminar Alumni Network in 2007,
becoming an Honorary Member of the Georgetown Master of Science in Foreign Service Advisory Board created in 2011,
attending Georgetown's Master of Science in Foreign Service student events in 2012
and receiving the annual Georgetown Soccer Alumni Award in 2015.
After attending Georgetown, Otaiba spent the next three years working for the automotive division of his family's firm, the Al Otaiba Group. His father's firm lost the prestigious General Motors
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.
Otaiba in 2013
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".
On 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 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.” In 2016, a court ordered one of Oasis Foundation's board members to pay restitution for funds taken from the charity for personal expenditures - funds originally deposited and subsequently replenished by Otaiba.
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 the Fall of 2015, Otaiba was outspoken about the political impact the War in Yemen
was creating, alerting top ranked UAE officials that the civilian toll and collateral damage, primarily due to errant Saudi air strikes and with little humanitarian support, was creating a liability for Washington. He acknowledged that the Obama Administration
was remaining reluctantly supportive and recommended that the selection of military targets be more carefully selected and that the UAE and Saudi collaborate to repair public perception via media, academic and NGO relationships.
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.
On June 12, 2020, Otaiba authored an op-ed in an effort to halt Israel’s planned annexation of West Bank
Otaiba’s op-ed was addressed to the Israeli public and published on the front page of the Yedioth Ahronoth
It was the first ever written by a Gulf diplomat and published in an Israeli newspaper.
Prior to publication, Otaiba solicited the advice of Israeli-American Businessman, Haim Saban
, on when and where to place the op-ed and was advised that the op-ed ought to be translated to Hebrew
In the op-ed, Otaiba expressed enthusiasm for stronger ties between Israel and UAE, touting the benefits of accelerated economic growth and stability throughout the Middle East
in addition to security but said that Israeli plans for annexation and talk of normalization were a contradiction.
He elaborated that annexation and seizure of Palestinian
land would defy the “international consensus on the Palestinian right to self-determination”, warning that such a plan would “ignite violence and rouse extremists”.
On July 2, 2020, Otaiba met with Avi Berkowitz
to further discuss a plan to prevent annexation.
Along with a mutual interest in creating a unified front against the opposing forces of Iran, the concerns detailed in Otaiba’s op-ed and planning with Berkowitz helped bring vested parties to the negotiating table to identify a better solution,
ultimately resulting in a normalization agreement reached in August 2020
and officially committed to in September 2020 with the signing of the Abraham Accords
on the South Lawn
of the White House
The deal was brokered by the United States.
Both Saban and Al Otaiba credited U.S. leadership for helping to manage the negotiation process and deliver on the agreements.
“I think the United States government came through every single time,” Al Otaiba said. “And that’s the reason we had the signing ceremony two weeks ago at the White House.”
Otaiba also recognized Berkowitz, Jared Kushner
and Brig. Gen. Miguel Correa for their efforts,
whereas Correa became involved after playing a part in a 2017 U.S. coordinated rescue operation in Yemen
that brought UAE soldiers and a member of the royal family to safety after their helicopter crashed.
Otaiba said he spoke to them more than anyone else in the weeks leading up to the agreement and if it wasn’t for them the deal probably wouldn’t have been done - noting the amount of trust required.
The 2020 deal marked the first time anyone had normalized ties with Israel since Jordan in 1994,
opening the doors for others to follow suit.
In August 2020, Otaiba issued a statement extolling the Israel–United Arab Emirates peace agreement
as "a win for diplomacy and for the region",
adding how it "lowers tensions and creates new energy for positive change".
In 2014, Al Otaiba and his wife, Abeer, co-chaired the Children's Ball, which raised a record $10.9 million for Children's National, making it the most successful nonprofit fundraiser in Washington's history.
Both the ambassador and his wife have served as partners and advocates for children in the Washington area and around the world. In 2015, the Ambassador and Mrs. Al Otaiba were the recipients of the second annual Joseph E. Robert Jr. Prize in Philanthropy created to honor families who have given back to the hospital, after having a personal experience with the institution.
The prize is named for philanthropist and business leader Joseph E. Robert Jr.
In early June 2017, an anonymous hacker group named GlobaLeaks
began distributing emails to multiple news outlets that they had hacked from the inbox of Al Otaiba.
According to The New York Times
, the hacked emails appeared to benefit Qatar
and be the work of hackers working for Qatar, a common subject of the distributed emails.
One leaked email alleged that Otaiba loaned ex-Al Jazeera journalist and Otaiba's high school friend, Mohamed Fahmy
, $250,000 to cover his legal fees in his $100 million lawsuit against Al Jazeera
Another leaked email alleged that the UAE supported moving the US military base Al Udeid Air Base
and the Taliban
embassy out of Qatar 
A third leaked email alleged that Otaiba hired Banque Havilland
to draw up a plan on how to start a financial war against Qatar.
A selection of other emails were leaked relating to alleged UAE payments to U.S. lobbying firms,
Otaiba finances tied to 1Malaysia Development Berhad
a $250,000 UAE invoice for information related to the exportation of military-grade drones,
Otaiba’s criticism of Saudi decision making,
and an inside account of Otaiba’s nightlife and relationship with women prior to becoming Ambassador, although Otaiba's friend confirmed no wrongdoing by Otaiba in an interview with The Intercept
and the Daily Beast
said the leaked emails fell short of the explosive revelations hinted at in GlobaLeaks’s cover letter.
GlobaLeaks stated that their intent behind the emails was to expose the UAE’s efforts to manipulate the U.S. government, but denied allegiance to Qatar, or any other government mentioned in the emails.
At the time, The Huffington Post
suggested that, regardless of intent, the revelations were capable of dramatically undermining U.S. goals in the Middle East and that the leaked emails were being used to embarrass “Washington’s Most Powerful Ambassador”.
Since then, in 2020, Al Otaiba successfully helped the U.S. navigate negotiations with multiple Middle Eastern entities, brokering an historic peace deal between Israel and UAE and prompting others to do the same.
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- UAE Minister of State Yousef Al Otaiba
- Bahrain Ambassador to U.S. Rashid al-Khalifa
- Israel Ambassador to US Ron Dermer
Last edited on 4 May 2021, at 00:25
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