US Secretary of State Blinken holds talks with the de facto leader of the United Arab Emirates, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, in Morocco.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has sought to reassure Gulf monarchies that Washington is determined to help them fend off attacks by the Houthi rebel group in Yemen and urged regional allies to “speak out” against the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Blinken made the remarks Tuesday in Morocco, where he met with the de facto leader of the United Arab Emirates, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and senior Moroccan officials.
The journey comes in the shadow of Russia’s invasion of Ukrainewhich along with sanctions against Moscow has sent wheat and fuel prices skyrocketing in a severe blow to import-dependent North African countries.
Speaking to reporters in Rabat, Blinken said the United States recognized the “disaster” that the supply shortage had caused.
“We are discussing concrete steps that we can take … to help reduce the impact, particularly on the most vulnerable populations,” he said.
Blinken also said he was “encouraging partners to speak out against Russian aggression” and said he doubted Russia’s “seriousness” in talks with Ukraine held in Turkey.
Washington’s top diplomat flew to Rabat Monday night from Israel, where he had met with his counterparts from the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Bahrain and Egyptunderlining a seismic shift since 2020 in relations between Arab countries and Israel.
On Tuesday, he met with Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita to discuss the Western Sahara dispute and security cooperation.
The same issues will loom large in the next day’s meetings with Morocco’s regional rival Algeria, after months of deteriorating relations between Rabat and Algiers.
Tensions with the UAE
Blinken met with Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, often nicknamed “MBZ,” as Washington warily notes that longtime ally the United Arab Emirates diverges from many of his policies.
The United Arab Emirates has refrained from criticizing Russia, including sending its top diplomat to Moscow. He also recently hosted Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and has expressed discomfort with attempts by US President Joe Biden’s administration to revive the languishing nuclear deal with Iran.
“We have real challenges to face 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.
He said the United States was “determined to do everything we can to help them defend themselves” against attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who have recently stepped up rocket attacks on both the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
He promised to consult with the Emiratis on Iran’s nuclear negotiations and also on the effects on world energy and food security caused by Russia’s war against Ukraine.
Ahead of a visit to Algeria on Wednesday, Blinken also explored options to help end the neighbors’ dispute over the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara after the new developments.
Morocco controls 80 percent of the area, including a key highway to West Africa, while the rest, a desert region bordering Mauritania and Algeria, is run by the Polisario Front independence movement.
Former US President Donald Trump recognized the region as Moroccan sovereign territory in 2020 in a break with decades of US policy, after Rabat agreed to restore relations with Israel under the so-called Abraham Accords.
The Biden administration has remained mum on how it will follow up on the move, which came just weeks after the Polisario Front declared the 1991 ceasefire null and void, raising fears that the frozen conflict for a long time could explode again.
Bourita called on European states on Tuesday to follow Spain in backing a Moroccan plan for autonomy there under Rabat’s sovereignty.
“We think it’s time for Europe… to get out of this comfort zone where people just support a process that doesn’t mean they support a solution,” he said.
“There is consensus that the solution must be within Moroccan sovereignty and the Moroccan autonomy plan.”
Blinken said that Washington continues to “consider Morocco’s autonomy plan as serious, credible and realistic.”
The US State Department said in a report Monday that it supports the plan and the work of Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations envoy, who sees the territory as a “non-self-governing territory.”