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Thursday, February 23, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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UAE is a staunch U.S. ally, but relationship is complex

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON —

The United Arab Emirates is a U.S. military partner in the global war on terrorism, but the relationship is so politically sensitive in the UAE that the Pentagon does not openly discuss details.

The strategic importance of the UAE derives in large part from its location along the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow chokepoint for shipping in the Persian Gulf, a short distance from Iran's southern shores.

The UAE is the world's fifth-largest oil exporter.

Patrick Clawson, the deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East policy, who lived in Dubai part of last year, said, "Dubai is a place with few rules, but one of the few things tightly regulated is port security, and that's why the U.S. Navy feels comfortable using Dubai more than any other port in the world."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will visit the UAE today, the final stop on a three-nation tour of Arab countries.

Ties to terror


The United Arab Emirates has not had a major terrorist attack. But its largest city, Dubai, is a banking center that is believed to attract funds from groups such as al-Qaida. Some of Dubai's brushes with terror groups:

In 2004, Qari Saifullah Akhtar, a Pakistani suspected of training thousands of al-Qaida fighters, was arrested in the UAE and turned over to officials in his homeland.

In 2002, Emirati authorities arrested and turned over to the United States Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the suspected mastermind of the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, which killed 17 U.S. sailors. Al-Nashiri was also suspected of helping direct the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

The father of Pakistan's nuclear program, Abdul Qadeer Khan, has acknowledged heading a clandestine group that, with the help of a Dubai company, supplied Pakistani nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea.

A 2004 report from the U.S. commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks found 11 Saudi hijackers had traveled to the United States via the airport in Dubai.

Osama bin Laden's alleged financial manager, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hisawi, received a Dubai bank transfer of $15,000 two days before the Sept. 11 attacks and then left the UAE for Pakistan, where he was arrested in 2003.

Marwan Al-Shehhi, a UAE citizen and one of the Sept. 11 hijackers, received $100,000 via the UAE. Another Sept. 11 hijacker, Fayez Banihammad, also was from the Emirates.

About half the $250,000 spent on the Sept. 11 attacks was wired to al-Qaida terrorists in the United States from Dubai banks, authorities said. Al-Qaida money in Dubai banks also has been linked to the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

The Associated Press

Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Tuesday that U.S. forces use UAE seaports and air fields for logistics support and for training of Air Force pilots. "In everything that we have asked and worked with them on, they have proven to be very, very solid partners," Pace said.

Among the specifics that Pace did not mention:

• Air Force U-2 spy planes and Global Hawk unmanned surveillance aircraft have been based at al-Dhafra air base, along with KC-10 aerial refueling planes. When a U-2 crashed in the UAE last June, killing the Air Force pilot, American officials did not publicly disclose the location "due to host nation sensitivities."

• In March 2000 the UAE and the United States completed a sales agreement for 80 of the most sophisticated versions of the F-16 fighter jet.

• The threat to commercial shipping in the Gulf during the "tanker war" between Iran and Iraq in the 1980s was the impetus for the United States to develop closer ties to the UAE. Ties grew much closer after Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990.

As with most other American allies in the Persian Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, the presence of American troops in the UAE is either cloaked in a degree of secrecy or de-emphasized out of concern about anti-U.S. sentiment.

The Pentagon will not say how many U.S. troops are based in the UAE.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


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