New UAE president meets Macron as world leaders arrive

ABU DHABI: The new President of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, held talks on Sunday (May 15) with his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, as world leaders arrived in the oil-rich Gulf state to pay tribute to his late predecessor.

Macron, on his first trip abroad since his second term began last week, expressed his condolences to the leader nicknamed “MBZ” following the death of his half-brother Sheikh Khalifa on Friday after a long illness.

Macron, the first Western leader to pay his respects, will be followed by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, US Vice President Kamala Harris, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, President of Israel and King of Spain, among a long list of dignitaries.

The United Arab Emirates has begun to wield greater influence in the Middle East and beyond due to its wealth, oil resources, and strategic location.

MBZ has been quietly running the country since 2014 when Sheikh Khalifa, his 73-year-old half-brother, was sidelined with a stroke. His cause of death was not announced.

The presidents and monarchs of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Oman and Tunisia and the de facto ruler of Sudan were among the leaders who offered their condolences on Saturday.

On Sunday, the emir of Qatar, the king of Bahrain and the Palestinian, German and Indonesian presidents were among more than 20 top officials expected.

Macron, in his talks with Sheikh Mohamed, 61, expressed his “sincere condolences to his family and the people” on the death of Sheikh Khalifa, according to the French presidential office.

“The United Arab Emirates is a strategic partner for France, a fact that is reflected in the degree of our cooperation in areas as varied as defence, culture and education,” he added.

FLAGS AT HALF-STAFF

Flags are flown at half-staff across the country, which is observing 40 days of mourning for Sheikh Khalifa, who took office following the death of his father, founding President Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan, in 2004.

Sheikh Mohamed was chosen to head the desert state government in a unanimous vote on Saturday by the leaders of the country’s seven emirates, as was widely expected.

MBZ’s close ally, Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, called to congratulate the new president, and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted to praise his “dynamic and visionary leadership.”

Blinken and Harris were due to pay a visit Monday that could help mend ties strained since President Joe Biden replaced Donald Trump in the White House.

The two sides have been at loggerheads over Abu Dhabi’s refusal to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Washington’s reopening of nuclear talks with Iran, long accused by Gulf states of creating regional chaos.

Both Macron and Johnson were making their second visit to Abu Dhabi in recent months. Johnson’s visit in March failed to convince the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia to pump more oil after Russia’s war in Ukraine sent markets into turmoil.

The wealthy United Arab Emirates has emerged as the leader of a reshaped Middle East, forging ties with Israel and joining a Saudi-led war against Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen.

The United Arab Emirates signed a €14 billion contract for 80 Rafale fighter jets during Macron’s previous visit in December.

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