Top US officials Harris, Blinken in UAE after leader’s death

US delegation greets new leader Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan after the death of President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives in the UAE following the death of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan [Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]

A high-powered delegation that includes US Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and top military and intelligence officials has traveled to the United Arab Emirates after the death of President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

On Monday, the top US officials offered condolences in the wake of Sheikh Khalifa’s death on Friday and greeted the incoming president, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who was elected by the Federal Supreme Council the next day.

Harris highlighted the “strength” of the partnership between the two countries, calling it “enduring” and said she looked forward to the future of the relationship under the new leader, the US vice president said in a statement after meeting with Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

The delegation’s potent roster underscores the continued significance of the regional ally to the United States and appears to be an attempt by the administration of President Joe Biden to repair relations that have frayed in recent months.

Those visiting the country include Harris, Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns and Climate Envoy John Kerry.

“The United States takes quite seriously the strength of our relationship and partnership with the UAE,” Harris told reporters before departing for the trip.

US officials are expected to address long-simmering frustrations with US security protection in the Middle East as Washington has increasingly pivoted its military apparatus away from the volatile region in recent years and towards Russia and China.

The Emiratis were particularly frustrated by what they saw as a lack of strong US support in the aftermath of missile attacks in January by Yemen’s Houthis, who are aligned with Iran, on Abu Dhabi.

Upon taking office, the Biden administration suspended a multibillion-dollar sale of F-35 fighter jets to the UAE agreed by former President Donald Trump. In a rare public admission in March, the UAE’s envoy to Washington acknowledged the two nations were going through a “stress test”.

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, who has largely called the shots behind the scenes for years during his half brother’s prolonged illness, was angered by the fact Biden did not call him swiftly after the Houthi attacks or respond more forcefully to the Yemeni rebels, Reuters news agency reported.

Tensions have also emerged over the UAE’s response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine amid US pressure to shun Moscow and pump more oil to improve stability in energy markets, as Europe tries to wean itself off Russian crude.

UAE officials have largely rebuffed US pressure to take a hard line against Russia, which remains a key trading partner.

Underscoring the UAE’s significance to Western and Arab allies alike, an array of presidents and prime ministers have descended on Abu Dhabi over the weekend to solidify ties.

French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson were the first European leaders to travel to the UAE capital since Sheikh Khalifa’s death.

Iran has said Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian will also head to the emirate on Monday.

While the US and Iranian visits may coincide, there is no plan for officials to meet face-to-face as the world powers continue to negotiate a return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies