Jun 1, 2022 - World

Scoop: U.S. and UAE discuss strategic security agreement

American and Emirati flags.
Photo: Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration and the United Arab Emirates are discussing a possible strategic agreement that would give the Gulf country certain U.S. security guarantees, two current and former U.S. officials told me.

Why it matters: The discussions began last November, but became more serious after the UAE and Biden administration eased tensions in late March. Relations had been strained over what the Emiratis saw as a slow and weak U.S. response to the Houthi missile and drone attacks on Abu Dhabi in January.

Driving the news: In recent months, the Biden administration and the UAE began discussing what they called a “Strategic Framework Agreement."

  • It came at the suggestion of the Emiratis, who see any deal as a sign that the U.S. is committed to the Gulf country's security, current and former U.S. officials said.
  • The Biden administration has already sent a draft agreement to the UAE, according to the officials. White House Middle East coordinator Brett McGurk visited Abu Dhabi last week to discuss the issue.
  • The draft agreement includes a component on defense and security but also covers economic, trade, science and technology issues, a source briefed on the issue said.

Flashback: Relations between the U.S. and the UAE were strained after a Houthi missile attack on Abu Dhabi in January.

  • When former CENTCOM commander Gen. Kenneth McKenzie visited Abu Dhabi in February, then-Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed 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.
  • In April, Secretary of State Tony Blinken met MBZ in Morocco and apologized for the U.S. response to the Houthi attacks. That meeting led to the easing of tensions and to discussions about the security agreement.
  • Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to the UAE last month with a high-level delegation to share condolences after the death of President Khalifa Bin Zayed.
  • U.S. officials told me the delegation, which also included the secretary of state and the secretary of defense, was a way to signal the U.S. is committed to its relationship with the UAE.

What to watch: The Biden administration is ready to give certain commitments to the UAE as part of an agreement, but it is still unclear how far the U.S. will be willing to go.

  • Discussions are expected to continue in the coming weeks.
  • The White House declined to comment.

Worth noting: The UAE already has an agreement with France that includes a defense commitment if the UAE is attacked.

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