Senior US and United Arab Emirates officials reiterated the two countries’ “strategic partnership” on Saturday following talks in Washington, days after the Gulf state revealed it had stopped participating in a US-led multinational naval task force.
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan told his Emirati counterpart Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed al-Nahyan that the Biden administration was committed to deterring threats against the UAE, according to a White House readout of the meeting.
The talks came weeks after Iranian forces seized an oil tanker as it transited from a UAE port.
This week, the Gulf state said that two months ago it had withdrawn its participation in a Combined Maritime Forces, a 38-member task force led by the US Navy’s Fifth fleet based in Bahrain.
In a statement it said the decision was taken “as a result of our ongoing evaluation of effective security co-operation with all partners”.
The move was viewed as a further sign of the long-running frustrations in the UAE with the level of US military support for the Gulf.
A person briefed on the matter said the UAE had become troubled by confusion around the task force’s mandate and rules of engagement.
“For example, what was it [the force] doing when it saw Iranian forces interdict a ship transiting from a UAE port?” the person said. “The point of the task force is to protect maritime navigation and security and you can’t do that unless it has the mandate to intervene.”
The US Navy’s Fifth Fleet declined to comment.
After holding talks with Sullivan, Sheikh Tahnoon “praised” the US defence partnership with the UAE, the readout said.
The US-UAE relationship has been tense since January 2021, when Iranian-allied Houthi militia in Yemen launched missile and drone attacks on Abu Dhabi.
The UAE leadership felt that Washington was slow to react to the attacks on the Gulf state’s capital, in contrast with other partners, such as France.
Abu Dhabi viewed the response as further evidence of what it perceives to be a decade of US disengagement from the region and policy unpredictability.
The UAE was also disappointed by US responses to sabotage attacks against commercial shipping in the Gulf of Oman and missile attacks on critical Saudi oil infrastructure in 2019 that were blamed on Iran.
The Islamic republic has hijacked commercial shipping vessels in and around the Gulf in recent years.
Since the attacks on Abu Dhabi two years ago, both sides have been working on developing an enhanced security partnership but have yet to reach an agreement.
While the UAE is seeking a pact around security protection, Washington has raised issues around Abu Dhabi’s close ties to other powers, including China, which is emerging as a more influential force in the oil-rich region.
In March, Beijing brokered a deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran under which the two regional powerhouses agreed to restore diplomatic relations.
The UAE has also attracted many Russians and their assets in the wake of the Ukrainian war, raising concerns in the west that the Gulf’s financial capital could emerge as a haven for sanctions busting.
“Relations with the US are OK, there’s a commitment to keep advancing the relationship,” said the person briefed on the matter.