Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides flew to the United Arab Emirates on Monday to hold a private meeting with his counterpart, days after the two countries signed a military cooperation agreement but also days before a changing of the guard in Washington could spell trouble for US arms sales to Gulf states.
Christodoulides was scheduled to meet with UAE’s foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, with the two men discussing bilateral issues, the Cyprus problem, developments in the eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Gulf region, as well as regional cooperation and security, including EU-UAE relations.
The visit comes one week after Cyprus and the UAE signed their first military cooperation agreement, as the island seeks to bolster relations with nearby countries in the Middle East.
Menendez poised to take over foreign relations
But the visit also comes days before the changing of the guard in Washington, with the Presidential Inauguration of President-Elect Joe Biden set to take place on Wednesday and reports that Senator Bob Menendez is poised to take control over the foreign relations committee.
Christodoulides flew to the United Arab Emirates on Monday, days before a changing of the guard in Washington could pose challenges to US arms sales to Gulf states
Menendez, known as a friend of the Republic of Cyprus, has clashed with outgoing-President Trump’s administration over a slew of major arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, including a $23 billion sale of F-35 fighter jets and other weapons to the UAE which the senator opposed.
Christodoulides, who will also visit Saudi Arabia the following day to meet with his Saudi counterpart Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, will hold similar discussions in Riyadh, according to the Cyprus News Agency.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been accused by think tank experts of breaching arms sale agreements with the US by allegedly transferring American materiel to al-Qaida-linked fighters and other militant factions in Yemen.
Political observers say Menendez, who failed to block Trump’s last-minute arms deals in the Senate, is expected to raise serious questions over the vetting process of arms deals with Gulf States with much more congressional oversight of weapons sales.
Menendez, who co-authored legislation allowing the conditional lifting of a US arms embargo on Cyprus, is well-known to be involved in the region, seen as a friend of Israel and a foe in Turkey.
Last year the Democratic senator took credit for sanctions against Ankara, telling Greek media in Washington that his own previous amendment to the 2021 fiscal budget, essentially squeezing in provisions for sanctions on Turkey for one year, “was definitely a driving force,” arguing that Turkey’s behaviour elsewhere including the eastern Mediterranean were factors in the decision.
Christodoulides to discuss end of Qatar blockade
CNA reported that Christodoulides will also meet Nayef Falah M. Al-Hajraf, the Secretary-General of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf.
According to CNA, the two men are expected to exchange views on broader Gulf region issues including this month’s Al-Ula Agreement, which has been signed by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and later Egypt, effectively signaling the end of the Gulf crisis and the Qatar blockade.
Months after US President Trump assumed office, a Saudi-led coalition accused Qatar of sponsoring terrorism, a claim Doha had rejected.
Qatar tried to minimize initial supply disruptions by a coalition-imposed blockade by importing from Iran and Turkey, while it also refused to agree on cutting diplomatic ties with Iran, military coordination with Turkey, or closing Al-Jazeera, a news network critical of Arab state governments.