French President Emmanuel Macron, at the centre, meets the newly-elected president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, on the left, at Al Mushrif Palace in Abu Dhabi on May 15, 2022
Abu Dhabi (AFP) - The UAE’s new president, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, held talks Sunday with French counterpart Emmanuel Macron as world leaders streamed in to the oil-rich Gulf state to pay tribute to his late predecessor.
Macron, on his first foreign trip since his second term started last week, expressed his condolences to the leader dubbed “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, Israel’s president and the king of Spain, among a long list of dignitaries.
The United Arab Emirates has begun wielding increased influence in the Middle East and further afield 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 by a stroke. The cause of his death was not announced.
Presidents and monarchs from Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Oman and Tunisia and Sudan’s de facto ruler were among the leaders to offer their condolences on Saturday.
Attendees gather to mourn the death of UAE's President Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan at Al Mushrif Palace in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on May 15, 2022
On Sunday, Qatar’s emir, Bahrain’s king and the Palestinian, German and Indonesian presidents were among more than 20 senior officials expected.
Macron, in his talks with Sheikh Mohamed, 61, expressed his “sincere condolences to his family and the people” over Sheikh Khalifa’s death, according to the French presidential office.
“The United Arab Emirates are a strategic partner for France, a fact that is borne out by the degree of our cooperation in areas as varied as defence, culture and education,” it added.
- Flags at half-mast -
Factfile on UAE's President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, who died Friday
Flags are at half-mast around the country, which is observing 40 days of mourning for Sheikh Khalifa who took over after the death of his father, founding president Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan, in 2004.
Sheikh Mohamed was chosen to head the government of the desert state in a unanimous vote Saturday by leaders of the country’s seven emirates, as had been 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 commend his “dynamic and visionary leadership”.
Blinken and Harris were due Monday for a visit that could help repair ties strained since President Joe Biden replaced Donald Trump in the White House.
The two sides have been at odds 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.
Map of the UAE
Both Macron and Johnson were making their second visits to Abu Dhabi in recent months. Johnson’s visit in March failed to convince the UAE and Saudi Arabia to pump more oil after Russia’s war in Ukraine sent markets into turmoil.
The wealthy UAE has emerged as a leader of a reshaped Middle East, forging ties with Israel and joining a Saudi-led war against Iran-backed rebels in Yemen.
The UAE signed a 14-billion-euro contract for 80 Rafale warplanes during Macron’s previous visit in December.