Bush visit to cement ties with UAE

DUBAI - US President George W. Bush arrives on Sunday in the United Arab Emirates on a visit aimed at cementing ties with a booming oil-rich nation wooed by US officials, businessmen and the defence industry.

By (AFP)

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Published: Sat 12 Jan 2008, 6:51 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 5:48 PM

Bush, the first sitting US president to visit the federation of seven Gulf emirates, will come from Bahrain as part of a week-long Middle East tour that is also aimed at isolating Iran over its contested nuclear programme.

Despite a longstanding territorial row, the UAE is Iran’s largest trade partner, with up to 10,000 Iranian firms operating in Dubai, making the city state Iran’s main business hub.

Bush will deliver a speech in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi expected to focus on economic achievements and the progress of the “freedom agenda” in the Gulf.

A free trade pact has eluded Washington and Abu Dhabi, and their friendship suffered a setback when US congressional opposition forced Dubai’s giant port operator to offload US operations in 2006.

But the United States and the UAE - touted as a model of economic progress in an unstable region - have steadily forged closer links.

US firms have scrambled to secure a foothold in the country while Emirati companies and funds snap up prized US assets.

During a fleeting visit to Dubai on Monday, Bush will take a glance at the meteoric rise which has made the city state an instantly recognisable name in his own country, with such grandiose projects as a world-shaped cluster of man-made islands and the world’s tallest skyscraper.

Bush had backed Dubai Ports World’s acquisition of operations at six US ports in the face of fierce congressional opposition because of security concerns.

But the Dubai government had to relinquish the US assets after Bush failed to sway US lawmakers to back the deal.

Despite the debacle, Dubai has gone on to acquire major US assets, including an investment by the Borse Dubai in Nasdaq.

Late last year the government-run Abu Dhabi Investment Authority bought a 4.9 percent stake in Citigroup for 7.5 billion dollars, making it one of the largest shareholders in America’s second-biggest bank by market worth.

The UAE prides itself on its “balanced” international relations and is keenly aware of the potential threat from Al-Qaeda-linked extremists operating elsewhere in the troubled region.

In December, the Pentagon notified Congress of its intention to sell the UAE sophisticated weapons as part of arms sales to Gulf states to beef up their defences against Iran.

The proposed sale included a Patriot missile defence system worth as much as nine billion dollars, and three early warning aircraft for 437 million dollars.

In March 2000, the UAE bought 80 US-built F-16 Falcon fighters at a cost of 6.4 billion dollars.

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