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The US is sending a high-level delegation to the United Arab Emirates to pay respects to the country’s late ruler and hold talks on Monday with his successor, part of efforts to mend ties frayed over security and oil. 

World leaders are descending on the OPEC member state after the death of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, US Vice President Kamala Harris and French President Emmanuel Macron are among the world leaders offering their condolences and meeting with new ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

The US delegation includes Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns. Their visit will aim to build on efforts behind the scenes to strengthen the bilateral relationship, a US official said. 

Sheikh Mohammed, who has long controlled the levers of power in the UAE, presides over the world’s fourth-richest wealth fund and about 6% of proven reserves of crude oil. A powerful regional figure, he’s frequently used his clout to intervene in regional conflicts with one of the Middle East’s best-equipped militaries.

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Blinken arrives in the region amid efforts to mend a tricky period in US relations with the UAE as well as its much larger neighbor Saudi Arabia. 

Tensions escalated after attacks on the two Gulf states by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen as the fighters confront a Saudi-led military alliance seeking to oust them from the Yemeni capital. Riyadh and Abu Dhabi oppose Washington’s moves to reenter a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, saying it will embolden Iran’s regional proxies like the Houthis. 

There are also frictions over oil policy. The US has urged Gulf states to pump more crude as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine convulses global markets, only to be rebuffed by regional leaders who say their oil-production alliance with Russia limits room for maneuver.

The UAE transition so far leaves open the question of who will become the new crown prince of the emirate of Abu Dhabi and effective new leader-in-waiting. 

Brother of the new ruler, influential National Security Adviser Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed, is a contender. One of the ruler’s sons could also be chosen, including Sheikh Khaled bin Mohammed bin Zayed, whose responsibilities have grown in recent years. 

The next generation faces major challenges, including how to continue the UAE’s energy transition and meet its 2050 net-zero target, the first announced by a major Gulf crude producer.

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