Column: UAE envoy ‘Otaiba’ calls Trump ‘stubborn and authoritarian’ in leaked emails


A new batch of leaked emails allegedly belonging to Yousef al-Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates  (UAE) Ambassador to Washington, indicate that he had strong opposition to U.S. President Donald Trump’s candidacy, while cozying up with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.

A source that calls itself Global DC Leaks, released some of the emails to Daily Sabah last week. The group, using a Russia-originated email, last month contacted three U.S. media outlets, which firstly reported the leaks, to submit some of the obtained emails. “A source provided us these in the form of files, we didn’t obtain them. When we analyzed we found them true and are sharing a relevant portion with journalists,” the DC Leaks email sent to Daily Sabah said. The source says its true aim is to expose all foreign funding buying influence over American policies and politicians.

The UAE embassy last month acknowledged to the U.S. media that Otaiba’s Hotmail account had been hacked. The embassy didn’t respond to a Daily Sabah inquiry. So far no one has denied the authenticity of the published emails in the media, belonging to one of the most influential figures in Washington, D.C. with strong ties to U.S. government agencies and the media.

The specific correspondence provided to Daily Sabah contained Otaiba’s conversations with his friends and colleagues following the failed coup in Turkey last year.

The emails on July 15 appear to show that UAE Ambassador Otaiba was surprised by the developments in Turkey, telling multiple journalists that he only knows what’s going on in the country from the media. In multiple email chains, he also denies the UAE’s and his personal role in the coup at any level.

Previously some U.S. media outlets reported al-Otaiba’s criticism on President Trump in the emails, however a new batch also appears to show that he despises him.

In an email sent to a Washington think tank on July 22, Otaiba seemingly expresses his disappointment at then-Republican presidential nominee Trump. “It is sad to see him as the Republican nominee. People are having a hard time accepting that a country like the U.S. is only able to produce someone like Trump. It’s illogical. And I don’t think he will change or learn. In fact, I think Trump is a lot like (Recep Tayyip) Erdoğan. Stubborn and authoritarian,” he wrote to Elliott Abrams, a former U.S. official and a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Abrams is known for his strong opposition to Trump during the 2016 presidential elections. Daily Sabah specifically asked Abrams whether this correspondence was fake or not. Instead of giving a straight answer, Abrams decided to give a non-answer, “I have seen many phony emails, and have in fact received many. No further comment,” he said.

Otaiba, in another email sent to prominent journalist Thomas Friedman, provided a brief opinion on Trump. “I think Putin, Erdoğan, and Trump are the same person. Same characteristics and personalities. But what scares me is the following they continue to receive,” he wrote on July 20. Friedman didn’t deny the authenticity of the email.

The emails are particularly interesting due to flourishing ties between Otaiba and Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner. A Politico report said Kushner was in almost constant phone and email contact with Otaiba following their meeting through a mutual billionaire friend in June 2016. Various reports suggested that Otaiba emerged as a key adviser to Kushner for the issues surrounding the Middle East. “We talk big picture,” Otaiba told Politico. “He continues to be someone I engage with on a regular basis on the broader issues facing the Middle East.”

In several other emails Otaiba also comments on President Erdoğan. The UAE’s strong disagreement between Turkey over the military coup in Egypt and the status of the Muslim Brotherhood is well-known. In an email chain dated July 17 with Steven Cook, a Turkey expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, he calls Erdoğan a “flawed human being.” He says, “He’s a 21st century sultan. Except that some sultans were actually benevolent.” Cook didn’t respond to Daily Sabah’s inquiries.

The leaker or leakers signaled that similar emails will be released to the media in the upcoming days.

*Ragip Soylu is a Turkish journalist and columnist. He writes for Daily Sabah Turkish newspaper. (Published in Daily Sabah on July 13, 2017)