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Harris stresses US-Emirati partnership after MBZ meeting

The visit by Vice President Kamala Harris and other US officials come as relations between Washington and Abu Dhabi hit a rough patch.
US Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to reporters while departing the Senate Chamber at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on May 11, 2022.

A high-level presidential delegation led by Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to the United Arab Emirates on Monday to pay respects following the death of the country’s president, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

During her trip to Abu Dhabi, Harris met with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who on Saturday replaced his half brother as UAE president. Harris’ trip marked the highest-level visit to the Persian Gulf country since the Biden administration took office in January 2021.

“We were here to discuss the strength of that partnership and that friendship and our commitment, going forward, to continue to work at the strength of that relationship,” Harris said following her meeting with Sheikh Mohammed in the Emirati capital on Monday.

The US delegation also included Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, CIA Director Bill Burns, climate envoy and former Secretary of State John Kerry, as well as several prominent national security aides. 

Why it matters: Their visit came as the US strategic partnership with the oil-rich Gulf state is strained over a number of issues, including the Biden administration’s efforts to revive an Iranian nuclear agreement and its limitations on arms sales to the UAE. 

Emirati leaders are also frustrated by what they considered to be a muted US response to recent missile and drone strikes carried out by the Iran-aligned Houthis in Yemen. Abu Dhabi was unsuccessful in pressing Washington to redesignate the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization, a move that relief groups warned would complicate aid delivery in Yemen. 

Russia’s war in Ukraine has deepened the rift. Both Abu Dhabi and Riyadh resisted Washington’s calls to significantly boost oil output as a way of containing prices, and in March, the UAE abstained from voting on a US-drafted UN Security Council resolution condemning the Russian invasion. That same month, Emirati Ambassador to Washington Yousef al-Otaiba described ties between the United States and the UAE as “going through a stress test."

What’s next: Relations between the two countries had reached a “critical juncture,” said Abdullah Baabood, an expert on Gulf affairs and visiting professor at Waseda University. 

“There is a message there,” Baabood said of the high-profile US delegation to Abu Dhabi. “I think it's an overture to the United Arab Emirates to say, 'Look, we are still friends.'”

Know more: Read more about the late Sheikh Khalifa, who died at 73 after ruling the country for nearly two decades.