US Vice President Biden begins Mideast tour in Abu Dhabi


ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — U.S. Vice President Joe Biden began a Middle East tour Monday with a visit to the capital of the United Arab Emirates, an important Gulf ally and regional commercial hub.

The trip will include talks on U.S. economic and energy interests, as well as security concerns about Iran and Syria, the White House has said.

Biden visited Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque on Monday morning, pausing outside to remove his black dress shoes in keeping with Islamic custom.

He examined a wall in the ornate mosque bearing the 99 names of God written in Arabic before stepping outside to wave at visiting tourists kept a short distance away.

Accompanying Biden on the mosque tour was its director-general, Yousif Abdallah Alobaidli, and Minister of State Reem al-Hashimi.

Biden later visited Masdar City, a government-backed clean energy campus on the capital’s outskirts, taking a few moments to talk to Shefaa Mansour, a student from Louisiana studying at the affiliated Masdar Institute.

He later looked at a model of a desalination plant, something crucial to the Emirates, which experts warn may run out of groundwater in the next 15 years. An official handed him a bottle of water made at the plant. The vice president looked at it, then smiled.

“Now make sure I’m still standing,” he said. “Watch what happens when I take the first sip. I’m more energized.”

Biden then paused for a moment and added: “Do you need a partner? I’m out of a job soon.”

Biden’s tour will also include visits to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan. His wife, Jill, is accompanying him.

The seven-state Emirates federation, which includes the Gulf commercial center of Dubai, is one of the largest oil producers in OPEC.

It hosts regional offices for numerous American companies in industries ranging from aerospace, energy, technology and hospitality. Dubai state-owned airline Emirates is the largest operator of the Boeing 777 wide-body jet.

The Emirates is also a member of the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State Group in Iraq and Syria.

In announcing Biden’s trip last week, the White House said the Emirates visit will highlight the strong relationship “with one of our closest regional allies covering the full range of political, economic, and security ties.”

Biden’s visit to the country is expected to include talks with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the powerful crown prince of Abu Dhabi, and Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, who is the federation’s vice president and prime minister.

Biden is not expected to offer any new initiative on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when he travels to Israel and the West Bank. The White House has said it does not believe either side has the political will for reviving the peace process.

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