US Secretary of State Antony Blinken sought to assure Gulf monarchies on Tuesday that Washington is determined to help them fend off attacks from the Iran-aligned Houthi group in Yemen.
Blinken met Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates, in Morocco as part of a trip to the Middle East and North Africa.
Washington’s Arab allies chafe at what they see as declining US commitment to security in their region in the face of Iranian involvement in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon which has nudged them into common cause with former arch-foe Israel.
Unusually for a US secretary of state, Blinken’s trip did not include any stops in Gulf monarchies or talks with Saudi officials.
“We have real challenges to confront together, in the region and beyond,” Blinken said at the start of the meeting with Sheikh Mohammed at the crown prince’s private residence in Rabat.
The first challenge Blinken cited was a series of missile attacks by the Houthis against the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
“We’re determined to do everything we can to help you defend yourselves effectively against that,” Blinken said, adding that he would also consult the Emirati leader on attempts to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and strengthening collective security regarding Iran.
Sheikh Mohammed said the meeting was “a very important opportunity” and “I’m sure we have a lot to talk about, especially our bilateral relationship.”
Gulf states have for years been frustrated at what they see as US inaction in confronting Iran’s role in the region, but their concerns have grown since Joe Biden became president 14 months ago.
They are worried about the impact of a potential new nuclear deal with Iran and annoyed that Washington has ended its support for their war in Yemen, put new conditions on weapons sales to Gulf states and criticised their human rights records.
Blinken attended a summit between Israel and some Arab countries at the weekend, including the UAE and Morocco.
Though the United States is focused long-term on the strategic challenge of growing Chinese influence, and its attention now is on the Ukraine crisis, very high crude prices have underscored the continued relevance of Gulf oil producers.
Blinken was also expected to stress the importance of both the UAE and Saudi Arabia in his talks with Sheikh Mohammed, discussing Iran, Yemen, global energy markets and the UAE’s rapprochement with Syria, US officials said before the meeting.
In return, he was seeking to overcome Gulf resistance to a US request to raise oil output to tame rampant crude prices that have aggravated high inflation rates globally.
Blinken referred to the impacts of the war in Ukraine, including on energy and food prices, as a challenge he would discuss in Tuesday’s meeting.
“The United States is a very important partner for all of us and we are very proud of the relationship. I think what we need is pragmatism. We need to look at the objective of the energy and what we’re asking for is not to tell us ‘do this’ or ‘do that’,” UAE Energy Minister Suhail al-Mazrouei said.
Washington wants its Arab allies to take a stronger stance against Russia over its assault on Ukraine by voting with the United States in the United Nations, joining Western sanctions or even sending security assistance to Ukraine.