President Joe Biden is sending a special U.S. delegation to the United Arab Emirates on Monday to offer condolences after the death of its ruler, in an apparent bid to step up efforts to repair frayed ties with Gulf Arab allies.
Washington wants to improve relations with Gulf monarchies after Russia invaded Ukraine, which has highlighted the importance of Gulf oil producers as Europe looks to reduce its energy dependence on Russia.
Since the weekend, world leaders have gathered in the UAE to greet new leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-NahyanMohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan and pay their respects on the death of President Khalifa bin Zayed.
The U.S. delegation, headed by Vice President Kamala Harris, includes nearly all of Biden's top national security aides, from the secretaries of state and defense to the head of the Central Intelligence Agency to high-ranking White House officials.
This is a major charm offensive on the part of the Biden administration to repair relations, said Omer Taspinar, a policy expert at the Brookings Institution think tank.
Gulf states have so far refused to take sides in the Ukraine conflict. Saudi Arabia and the UAE resisted calls to hike output to help tame crude prices that have aggravated inflation worldwide.
The delegation's make-up shows Washington's desire to show its commitment to the region, senior U.S. officials say.
They said Harris will emphasize the intent to deepen ties across areas from security and climate to space, energy and commerce.
The Middle East had not been a priority for the Biden administration, whose primary focus had been on tackling the China challenge, and since February the U.S. foreign policy agenda had been dominated by the Ukraine conflict.
After UAE frustration with the United States caused the absence of high-level visits in the aftermath of Houthi attacks, there is an attempt to put things back on track, according to Taspinar.
The Emiratis were frustrated by the lack of strong U.S. support in the wake of the missile attacks in January by Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthis on Abu Dhabi.
The UAE envoy to Washington said the two nations' ties were under stress in a rare public admission in March.
Reuters reported that Biden upset Sheikh Mohammed by not calling for swift action after the attacks and not responding more forcefully, including by reinstating a terrorist designation on the Houthis.
A source familiar with Emirati thinking said that the seniority and size of the U.S. delegation is a very telling signal and will be meaningful to Sheikh Mohammed and the UAE leadership.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken assured the Emirati leader of Washington's commitment to the region at a meeting with Sheikh Mohammed in Morocco in March.
Gulf states have been chafed at the perceived decline of the U.S. commitment to their security in the face of Iran's missile programme and network of regional proxies.
The UAE is engaged with Tehran to try to contain tension. Iran's foreign minister is due to visit Abu Dhabi on Monday.
Abu Dhabi and Riyadh have been frustrated by U.S. weapons sales. In December of this year, the UAE said it would suspend talks on purchases of U.S. F-35 fighter jets because of conditions related to the sale.
The UAE says the United States remains a strategic partner even as it deepens ties with China and Russia.
There is progress but there is more to do. The UAE wants a closer relationship with the U.S., according to a UAE source.