U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Abu Dhabi, joining a high-ranking U.S. delegation led by Vice President Kamala Harris, to pay his condolence to the family of the late President of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who died last Friday.
Harris and Blinken are expected to meet with late president's brother, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan, who is the country's new president and already an influential power broker in the Middle East and beyond.
It is the highest-level visit to date by the Biden administration to the oil-rich country, a financial hub in the region. The delegation also includes Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, CIA Director William Burns and Climate Envoy John Kerry.
Before her departure, Vice President Harris said she was traveling on behalf of President Joe Biden to pay her respects. Analysts also view the visit as an important gesture to boost America's strained relations with the UAE. Abu Dhabi has been frustrated with the Biden administration for lifting a terrorist designation on Yemen's Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, who have fired missiles and drones at the UAE and Saudi Arabia. The UAE and other Gulf States also oppose efforts by the Biden administration to revive the international Iran nuclear deal, which former President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of in 2018.
For its part, Washington has asked both the UAE and Saudi Arabia to pump more oil since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, to lower soaring gas prices and improve stability in energy markets as Europe tries to start weaning itself off Russian oil and natural gas. Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have rejected Washington's demands, seeking to maintain good relations with Russia.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blanken is greeted by the Charge d'affaires of the US Embassy in the United Arab Emirates, Sean Murphy, as Blinken arrives in Abu Dhabi, May 16, 2022. (Cindy Saine/VOA)
Blinken arrived in Abu Dhabi from Paris, where he had a working dinner with his French counterpart, Jean Yves Le Drian. The State Department said the two top diplomats discussed "issues of importance in the bilateral relationship, especially the urgent need to confront global food insecurity exacerbated by Russia's" war in Ukraine and efforts to achieve a mutual return to the Iran nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA.
Blinken's first stop in this tour was in Berlin, where he met with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba Sunday. They also discussed plans to work together to ensure that Ukrainian food exports reach consumers in Africa and Asia. Berlin hosted a meeting of NATO foreign ministers, called to discuss the situation in the ground on Ukraine and to coordinate efforts to provide Ukraine with the humanitarian assistance and the weapons it needs to defend itself against Russia.
Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine has caused food prices to soar and raised the threat of famine in many parts of the world. Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven countries meeting in Germany Saturday called on the Russian government to end its blockade of Ukrainian Black Sea ports, to free up exports of critically needed Ukrainian grain, fertilizer and other agricultural products.
Blinken and the other NATO foreign ministers also discussed Finland's decision to apply to join NATO without delay. The U.S. has said it would support both Finland and Sweden's applications to join the transatlantic security alliance. Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Finland's President Sauli Niinisto in a phone call Saturday that any attempt by Helsinki to join NATO would harm bilateral relations. Finland's leaders see Russia's invasion of Ukraine as a threat to their country's security, since the two countries share a 1,340-kilometer border.
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had also expressed concerns about Finland and NATO joining the alliance. Blinken said Turkey has not said it will block Helsinki from joining, and that the application is a "process," and NATO is a place for discussion.