An influential American delegation led by Vice President Kamala Harris flew to the United Arab Emirates Monday to pay respects to the federation’s late rulers and meet its newly inaugurated president.
The trip was the highest-level visit by a Biden administration official to Abu Dhabi so far. The trip is meant to show strong support as the US government seeks to mend troubled relations with its oil-rich partner. The delegation included Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, CIA Director William Burns and the US special envoy on climate issues John Kerry.
The UAE appointed Abu Dhabi’s crown prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan as the new president following the death of his half-brother last Friday. Sheikh Mohammed has served as the country’s de facto ruler and shaped the country’s strong foreign policy since Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan suffered a stroke nearly a decade ago.
Under Sheikh Mohammed’s de facto government, the UAE has intervened in various regional conflicts, from Yemen to Libya, and used its vast oil wealth to influence abroad and transform itself into a regional financial center.
The visits of a series of presidents and prime ministers over the past weekend have shown how influential Abu Dhabi is in the West and the Arab world. French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson were the first European leaders to fly to the UAE capital.
More officials are expected to enter Abu Dhabi airport on Monday. Iran said Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian would also visit Abu Dhabi, coinciding with the US visit. Iran has refused to meet American officials in person, even as they negotiate a return to Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with major world powers.
Before heading to Abu Dhabi, Harris said he was traveling on behalf of President Joe Biden to express his condolences for the death of long-ill Sheikh Khalifa and to underscore America’s important relationship with the UAE. “The United States takes the strength of our relationship and partnership with the UAE quite seriously,” Harris told reporters. “We will go there to express our condolences, but also as an expression of our commitment to the strength of the relationship.”
US officials are expected to discuss UAE frustrations about protecting American security in the region as well as emerging tensions between countries over Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The UAE, along with Saudi Arabia, is facing American pressure to denounce Russia and pump more oil to increase stability in energy markets as Europe seeks to break its dependence on Russian crude. But the UAE is Russia’s main trading partner and a member of the so-called OPEC Plus agreement, of which Russia is a key member. The UAE has so far rejected America’s demands. The denial is rooted in the notion that although its military presence is still strong in the Arabian Peninsula, America is no longer a reliable partner.[ab/ka]