President Biden signals a White House effort to restore ties with Abu Dhabi after a list of senior cabinet officials led by the vice president visited the United Arab Emirates, an oil-rich country amid of a critical crisis. change of direction.
Rejection and perceived disinterest from Washington have led the UAE to act more boldly on the world stage recently. He abstained during a US-led resolution at the United Nations that condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Emirati officials have also refused to increase oil production in a bid to lower gas prices as they continue to tighten ties with China.
But following the death of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the country’s second president officially in power since 2004, Biden this week dispatched his top cabinet officials led by Vice President Harris, who was joined by the Secretary of State. State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and CIA Director William Burns.
The visit by senior Biden administration officials was one to express condolences — and congratulations — to the new leader, Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Known as MBZ, he is the half-brother of the late president.
Harris, in remarks after a meeting that lasted less than an hour, said the purpose of the trip was to “reaffirm the shared commitment we have to security and prosperity in this region and also how the American people has benefited from this relationship in terms of security and prosperity.” She called the UAE a “friend” and a “partner.”
The trip came as US officials tried to woo the monarchy amid a long list of tensions between Abu Dhabi and Washington. Another issue is that of a longtime US foe, Iran, and the UAE’s rejection of the Biden administration’s pursuit of a nuclear deal with Tehran.
The tensions contrast sharply with the close ties the UAE had with the former administration.
Abu Dhabi hailed President Trump’s exit from the Iran nuclear deal. Most notably, the Gulf state has benefited from the normalization of relations with Israel through proposed military sales by the United States and from Washington drawing support from Israeli plans to annex the West Bank.
“MBZ, because he sees himself as a man of vision, and Abu Dhabi is a significant and important country, he expects respect and certainly under Biden, doesn’t think he’s been treated with respect,” he said. said Simon Henderson, director of the Bernstein Program on Gulf and Energy Policy at the Washington Institute.
“Trump and Jared Kushner [the president’s son-in-law and senior advisor] somehow treated him with respect.
Experts said the trip by Biden officials signals the administration knows it has work to do.
“I think the high-level delegation is signaling that Washington would like to repair the relationship and it’s really important that they do that,” said Hussein Ibish, senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.
Mohammed, 61, has been considered the de facto ruler of the Emirates for almost 10 years, since President Khalifa suffered a stroke in 2014 and was largely ousted from power until his death.
Mohammed wielded considerable influence across the region during his tenure as Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and is described by regional observers as having a ‘vision’, focused on growing the wealth of the Emirates, making its economy a player important world and repelling what it like the threat of political Islam, in particular in the neighbors of Iran and Qatar.
Gerald Feierstein, a former ambassador to Yemen and a leading researcher on US diplomacy at the Middle East Institute, said Mohammed’s influence on the Trump administration’s “Abraham Accords” – the normalization agreements between Israel, the Emirates Arab States and Bahrain – signaled the crown prince’s desire to be a “motor of events in the region more broadly than just the Gulf”.
The United Arab Emirates also gained greater independence from the United States.
“For the Emirates, they see the United States as a less reliable regional and security partner than in the past and they are therefore ready to develop their own independent foreign policy,” said Courtney Freer, nonresident scholar at the Brookings Institution. .
Abu Dhabi challenged early in the Biden administration what it saw as a weak response to the threats and attacks the Emirates faced from Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, including Biden dropping the designation Houthi terrorist.
Ibish, of Arab Gulf States Institute, said the strong U.S. response to support Ukraine after Russia’s invasion underscored a sense that Washington was abandoning its security commitments in the Middle East.
“They look at the firm, united and resolute response to the invasion of Ukraine and compare it to those missile attacks [by the Houthis] and they feel very bad and not particularly taken care of,” he said.
This has left the Emirates’ rulers looking for help elsewhere.
“Whatever Washington wants, it [Mohammed] will make its own deal with Iran because they are neighbors across Gulf waters. And Dubai in particular has significant contacts with Iran, at least commercially,” Henderson said.
Also at issue are negotiations reportedly rejected by the United Arab Emirates to buy 50 F-35 fighter jets from the United States under “defence security conditions for the acquisition”, a UAE official said. United Arab Emirates to Reuters in December.
A State Department spokesperson, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Hill that the administration remains committed to sales and is “continuing consultations with the UAE to ensure that we have a clear understanding and Mutual of Emirates Obligations and Shares before, during and after delivery.”
Prior to the Biden administration’s visit this week, the United States had already begun to take steps to repair diplomatic relations, Ibish noted, in the form of Blinken’s apology to Mohammed last month for the delay in the Biden administration to respond to Houthi attacks in Abu Dhabi. This year.
“It’s the apology that goes a long way because the response seemed really inadequate and especially in light of the invasion of Ukraine, where the difference in Western response is stark,” Ibish added.
Feierstein added that the Blinken-Mohammed meeting in Morocco was a step in the “right direction” that “removed a lot of the undergrowth in the relationship.”
“No state ever sees anything by common agreement, there are always differences of opinion and position. But what you want is a strong institutional link that allows you to solve these problems” , he added.