Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 08/2011

The Battle of Dubai: The United Arab Emirates and the U.S.-Iran Cold War

Karim Sadjadpour

June 2011

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


As the United States seeks to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions through economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has come to play a critical yet often ambiguous role. The UAE, namely the emirate of Dubai, is a top source of Iranian imports and a key transshipment point for goods—legal and illegal—destined for the Islamic Republic. Dubai’s bustling and loosely regulated ports have repeatedly frustrated international sanctions against Iran. At the same time, the government in Abu Dhabi feels acutely threatened by Iran and has consequently forged a strategic alliance with the United States. The UAE spends billions of dollars on U.S. arms and Emirati officials have privately urged the United States to consider all possible options—including military intervention—to stop Iran’s nuclear program. Additionally, the UAE has allowed the United States to use Dubai—home to the world’s second-largest Iranian diaspora community—as a perch to gather information on Iran.