ABU DHABI – Vice President Kamala Harris led a high-level US delegation to the United Arab Emirates on Monday to pay tribute to the federation’s late leader and meet with the newly elected president.
The trip marks the highest-level visit by Biden administration officials to oil-rich Abu Dhabi, a powerful show of support as America tries to mend troubled relations with its partner in the rapidly changing geopolitical landscape. precipitated by Moscow’s war against Ukraine.
Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE’s powerful national security adviser, greeted Harris on the windswept tarmac. The delegation also included Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, CIA Director William Burns and climate envoy John Kerry, among others.
The United Arab Emirates has named the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, its new president following the death of his half-brother last Friday. Sheikh Mohamed has been the country’s de facto ruler and has shaped the country’s muscular foreign policy since Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan suffered a stroke nearly a decade ago.
Highlighting Abu Dhabi’s great influence in Western and Arab capitals, an array of presidents, prime ministers and princes descended on the desert sheikh over the weekend to honor the late Sheikh Khalifa, praise Sheikh Mohamed and consolidate the links. French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson were the first European leaders to fly to the capital of the United Arab Emirates.
On Monday, other dignitaries walked through the marbled Presidential Terminal at Abu Dhabi Airport. Britain’s Prince William came on Monday to pay his respects to the late leader of the former British protectorate, marking his second visit to the emirate so far this year.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian traveled to Abu Dhabi for a meeting that appeared to coincide with the US trip. Iran has refused to meet with US officials face to face, even as they negotiate a return to Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers.
Mohamed bin Salman, the energetic and upstart crown prince of Saudi Arabia and a de facto ruler close to Sheikh Mohamed, also traveled to the United Arab Emirates on Monday to offer his condolences in person.
Among the mourners, close allies of the UAE, include bitter rivals, such as Iran and Israel, India and Pakistan, Qatar and Egypt – a dramatic reminder of the country’s powerful role in the region .
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday sent a message congratulating Sheikh Mohamed, saying he was “certain that your leadership will further strengthen friendly Russian-Emirati relations”, according to the UAE’s official WAM news agency.
Before leaving Abu Dhabi, Harris said she offered her condolences on the passing of the long-suffering Sheikh Khalifa and sought to solidify America’s crucial relationship with the United Arab Emirates during her meeting with Sheikh Mohammad.
“We were here to discuss the strength of this partnership and this friendship and our commitment to the future…to reaffirm the shared commitment we have to security and prosperity in this region,” she said. told reporters, without answering questions.
Officials were expected to address longstanding frustrations in the UAE over U.S. security protections in the region, as well as tensions that have emerged between the countries over Russia’s war on Ukraine.
The United Arab Emirates, along with Saudi Arabia, have faced US pressure to avoid Russia and pump more oil to improve the stability of energy markets as Europe tries to wean itself off the Russian crude.
But the UAE is a key trading partner for Russia and a member of the so-called OPEC Plus deal, of which Russia is an important member. The Emiratis have pushed back against US demands – a resistance rooted in the apparent sense that despite the heavy US military presence in the Arabian Peninsula, it is no longer such a reliable partner.
After taking office, Biden lifted a terror designation on Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen who fired missiles and drones at the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and is trying to revive the nuclear deal of Tehran – a deal that Gulf Arab states fear will embolden Iran and its proxies.
America’s abrupt and chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan last summer and its long-term foreign policy goal of moving away from the Middle East and towards China have heightened concerns among Gulf Arabs. Meanwhile, the Biden administration has suspended a multi-billion dollar sale of F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates agreed to by former President Donald Trump.
Trump abandoned the Tehran nuclear deal and heavily courted Emirati and Saudi officials.
This spring, Yousef al-Otaiba, the UAE’s ambassador to the United States, described the allies as going through a “stress test”.