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Friday, September 22, 2023

The Hill: Has America lost the UAE?


The strategic relationship between the United States and the Gulf region is breaking down. The leader of the most influential country, Saudi Arabia, has basically told the Biden administration on oil supplies, arms sales or nuclear power, “If you want to work with me, that’s fine, but if you don’t, there will be others.” People are willing to cooperate.”

The disturbing and persistent rift between Washington and the United Arab Emirates is less dramatic but equally significant. Twice in the past two years, top U.S. officials have tried to reassure UAE leader Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (MBZ) in order to get relations back on track. When he was in Jeddah last July, President Biden personally invited MBZ to make an official visit to Washington before the end of the year, “The Hills” pointed out.

This has not yet been implemented.

The UAE’s grievances with Washington go back at least a decade, when President Obama secretly negotiated a nuclear deal with Iran behind the back of his Arab Gulf allies. Technological constraints at the State and Defense Departments under Trump and Biden prompted the UAE to cancel plans to buy the advanced F-35 aircraft worth $20 billion. Abu Dhabi has been further angered by the slow U.S. response to Yemen’s missile attack on the UAE.

Eventually the Emiratis concluded that with such friends one needs enemies, and they gradually turned to Russia and China for economic growth and diplomatic influence. The UAE has become the largest trading partner of Russia and China in the Arab world.

China is the UAE’s largest non-oil trading partner in the world, and the UAE is China’s second largest trading partner.

Beneath the surface of improved commercial ties with U.S. adversaries lies a web of security ties, leading senior U.S. officials and members of Congress to question the UAE’s reliability as a strategic partner.

Since abstaining in February on a UN Security Council resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the UAE has consistently turned a blind eye to or facilitated sanctions on Russia’s behalf, prompting aggressive action by the Biden administration. According to data collected by the Free Russia Foundation, the value of electronic components shipped from the UAE to Russia has increased sevenfold from 2021 to 2022. During the same period, the UAE’s exports of microchips to Russia increased 15-fold, as did exports of more than 150 drones.

The U.S. Treasury has publicly condemned the UAE’s “inadequate sanctions provisions.” This year alone, the US has sanctioned numerous UAE entities for sanctions violations. In one case, two UAE companies worked with Iran to transfer Iranian drones, personnel and support equipment from Iran to Russia via the UAE.

In another move, the Treasury Department sanctioned a Russian bank operating in the UAE with a license from the UAE Central Bank. MBZ’s brother and deputy prime minister is facing investigations by U.S. and British authorities over reports that he helped Russian oligarchs evade sanctions. On top of that, US spy agencies have documented a troubling and deepening intelligence relationship between the UAE and Russia.

Perhaps more worrisome from Washington’s perspective is the growing security relationship between the UAE and China. Two years ago, U.S. intelligence discovered that China was secretly building a military facility at a port in the United Arab Emirates. In more than one conversation with MBZ, President Biden expressed alarm and urged him to stop the project, which bin Zayed agreed to do. By the end of 2022, despite pledges to the contrary from the UAE…

In the eyes of many in Washington, the UAE leadership is going out of its way to pooh-pooh U.S. concerns.

Critics of the UAE point out that the UAE rejected the U.S. request because of its growing ties to the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei. Huawei has long been considered a “back door” for the Chinese government, and its infiltration of the UAE and the growing partnership between the intelligence agencies of the two countries have posed serious challenges to the U.S. national security establishment.

MBZ’s absence from Washington is significant, underscoring “Congress”…


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