Mar 30, 2022 - World

Scoop: Blinken's meeting with MBZ eased tensions, UAE official says

Blinken meets with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed at his residence in Rabat, Morocco. Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/AFP via Getty Images
Blinken meets with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed at his residence in Rabat, Morocco. Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/AFP via Getty Images

Tuesday's meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed helped bring down tensions and "move the relationship between the UAE and the U.S. back on the right track," UAE ambassador to Washington Yousef Al Otaiba told me.

Why it matters: Relations have been strained since a Houthi missile attack on Abu Dhabi in January.

Flashback: When CENTCOM commander Gen. Kenneth McKenzie visited Abu Dhabi in February, MBZ refused to meet with him because it had taken him 22 days to make the trip.

  • The Emiratis were also disappointed that the Biden administration declined their request to redesignate the Houthis as a terror organization.
  • The Emirati frustration led the UAE to abstain from a UN Security Council vote on condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
  • The UAE did vote in favor of a similar resolution days later — after lobbying from the U.S. and Israel — but the Emiratis have rebuffed calls to sever a production agreement with Russia and pump more oil.
  • Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's visit to the UAE earlier this month blindsided the White House and further increased tensions with the U.S.

Driving the news: The meeting between Blinken and MBZ in Morocco, which lasted two hours, started with a discussion of the tensions in the relationship but quickly moved on to issues like the Houthi attacks on the UAE, Iran, Syria, the Abraham Accords and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a source briefed on the meeting said.

  • Blinken told MBZ the U.S. remains committed to helping the UAE defend itself against threats from Yemen and elsewhere in the region, according to State Department spokesperson Ned Price.
  • "It was a positive meeting that helps move the relationship between the UAE and the U.S. back on the right track, where it belongs," Al Otaiba told me
  • Blinken said before the meeting that many U.S. initiatives around the world will be more effective if done in partnership with the UAE.

A day after the meeting, the U.S. Treasury announced new sanctions on key actors in Iran's ballistic missile program.

  • The Treasury Department specifically cited recent Houthi attacks and strikes by "Iranian proxies against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates."
  • The U.S. will work with its "partners in the region to hold Iran accountable for its actions, including gross violations of the sovereignty of its neighbors," the Treasury's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence Brian Nelson said in the statement.

Behind the scenes: Emirati officials said Blinken intended to visit MBZ in Abu Dhabi but his schedule changed, by which time MBZ had already left the country for a private vacation in Morocco.

  • Emirati officials saw the fact that Blinken decided to meet him in Rabat as a sign of U.S. commitment to the relationship.
  • Israeli officials say they had also been trying to help mend the relationship, and that the Negev summit — which brought Blinken together with Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed — helped lay the ground for the meeting with MBZ in Morocco.
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