ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Vice President Kamala Harris will greet the new ruler of the United Arab Emirates on Monday and pay her respects after the death of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan as a procession of world leaders arrives in the Emirati capital to offer their condolences.
Harris is leading a presidential delegation stacked with top officials, including the nation’s spy chief, defense secretary, and secretary of state, delivering a message about the stakes Washington is placing on its relationship with Abu Dhabi.
“We are going there then to express our condolences, but also as an expression of our commitment to the strength of that relationship and continuing to strengthen that relationship,” Harris told reporters before departing Andrews Air Base in Washington on Sunday. She did not take questions from the press.
Harris spent several minutes talking with Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns and climate envoy John Kerry, a former secretary of state during the Obama administration, who greeted her arrival on the tarmac. Both joined the vice president on Air Force Two, along with President Joe Biden’s Middle East coordinator Brett McGurk and her national security adviser Philip Gordon.
HARRIS LEADS DELEGATION OF TOP NATIONAL SECURITY OFFICIALS TO UAE
In addition to Burns, Kerry, McGurk, and Gordon, the Washington Examiner reported earlier that the delegation includes Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, White House National Security Council Senior Director for the Middle East Barbara Leaf, and U.S. Embassy Abu Dhabi Charge d’Affaires ad interim Sean Murphy.
A senior administration official stressed that Khalifa was a longtime friend of the United States and said the delegation, which includes several Cabinet members, “both honors his legacy and points confidently to the future of relations” between Washington and Abu Dhabi.
World leaders began streaming into Abu Dhabi to pay tribute to the late sheikh, with Israeli President Isaac Herzog arriving Sunday, along with French President Emmanuel Macron, and United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson soon after. Also in attendance were Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, Pakistani Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Iraqi President Barham Salih, and King Abdullah II of Jordan.
The visit comes at a delicate moment for the Biden administration, with senior officials working to ease tensions between the two countries over concerns that the U.S. has pulled back from the Middle East. The U.S. and UAE have a long-standing security partnership, with regional maritime security, military preparedness, cybersecurity, and counterterrorism cooperation.
The UAE has not joined U.S. efforts to isolate Russia after it invaded Ukraine in late February and has resisted Washington’s entreaties to pump more oil as gas prices and inflation rise globally.
In March, UAE's ambassador to Washington, Yousuf Al Otaiba, issued a statement saying that Abu Dhabi favored an increase in energy output and would encourage OPEC to consider one.
No goals have been outlined for Harris’s sitdown with the UAE's new president, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, but a senior administration official said she would emphasize the administration’s intent to work closely with his country on areas of security, climate, space, technology, education, energy, and commerce. The official said Harris would congratulate the new leader on his election as president and underscore the importance of the partnership for the bilateral as well as in the Middle East region.
The meeting is expected to build on the Biden administration’s outreach to Mohammed, including a phone call from the president on Friday to express condolences and a statement congratulating him Saturday. Mohammed’s unanimous election by the country’s Federal Supreme Council came a day after the death of his half-brother.
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Biden, who has not yet met with Mohammed, said in a statement Saturday that Harris’s visit “will underscore the strength of the partnership between our two countries and our desire to further deepen our ties in the coming months and years.”
“The UAE is an essential partner of the United States,” the president added.