UAE foreign minister on landmark visit to Iraq

Filed on June 5, 2008

DUBAI - United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahayan arrived in Baghdad on Thursday on the first visit to Iraq by a chief diplomat from an Arab country in the Gulf since the 2003 US invasion, an Emirati official said.

‘Sheikh Abdullah's visit to Baghdad is the first by a foreign minister from any Gulf Cooperation Council country,’ the official told AFP, requesting anonymity.

The GCC groups Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia alongside the UAE.

He said Sheikh Abdullah was set to meet his Iraqi counterpart Hoshyar Zebari.

‘The UAE has been offering a lot of support to Iraq since the war’ which toppled Saddam Hussein's regime, he said.

The United States has been pressing its oil-rich allies in the Gulf to show more support for the Iraqi government and to send ambassadors to Baghdad.

It was not immediately clear if Thursday's visit was a prelude to doing so.

The UAE withdrew its most senior diplomat, a charge d'affaires, from its Iraqi embassy in May 2006 after an Emirati diplomat was kidnapped by Islamist militants and held for two weeks before being released.

Before the diplomat was set free, his kidnappers demanded that the UAE withdraw its ambassador and shut down a Dubai-based Iraqi television channel.

The official told AFP Emirati diplomats returned home after their fellow diplomat's abduction. The UAE embassy has since ‘not been fully functional,’ but this did not mean a diplomatic break, he said.

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