Lawmakers pushing ahead on Abraham Accords naval cooperation bill despite U.S.-UAE friction

The UAE recently suspended its naval cooperation with the U.S., as Iran steps up its activity in the Arabian Sea

Photo by Brittany Murray/MediaNews Group/Long Beach Press-Telegram via Getty Images

The S.S. Lane Victory as seen from inside the USS CINCINNATI (LCS-20) one of three active U.S. Navy ships available to tour at LA Fleet Week in San Pedro on Friday, May 26, 2023.

Despite recent reports of friction in the U.S.-United Arab Emirates naval relationship, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are pushing ahead on efforts to establish deeper maritime cooperation among the U.S. and Abraham Accords member states.

The UAE announced at the end of May that it had pulled out of a U.S.-led multinational naval security force, which works to counter Iran in the Middle East, two months prior. U.S. officials said, however, that they had not received notification of such a move. Shortly after, Iran claimed it would form a joint naval force with the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Oman. 

These developments could be setbacks to the goals of the MARITIME Act, a bipartisan and bicameral project of the congressional Abraham Accords Caucus, which aims to develop a collaborative strategy among Abraham Accords nations to counter Iranian and Iran-affiliated naval threats. The effort comes amid several recent seizures by Iran of tankers and commercial ships in the Arabian Sea.

“We need to keep on working with the UAE,” Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), a lead sponsor of the MARITIME Act, told Jewish Insider on Wednesday. “They’re an incredibly important partner to us in the Middle East, and we do not want to take their friendship for granted.” 

She added that she remains “very committed to the MARITIME Act and making sure that we do continue to be good partners with them.”

Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), a fellow co-chair of the Abraham Accords Caucus, told JI that he was skeptical of Iran’s claims of a naval alliance with its erstwhile regional rivals, noting that “the maritime threat is Iran in the area — they’re the ones that are shipping weapons to Yemen to be able to shoot at the Emiratis and the Saudis.”

Lankford described the potential cessation of Emirati cooperation with U.S. naval forces based in Bahrain as “the bigger issue,” but noted that the UAE has historically “been very cooperative with us” in the naval arena — and other emerging cooperative fora.

“It’s important that we maintain [cooperation] because it is [in the interests of] the Emiratis’ national security to be able to maintain that,” he said. China’s not going to have the same presence in that area as the United States and as other partners in the region will.”

“We’re still going to continue to be able to work [on integrating maritime forces]. Free flow of navigation through the entire area is important to the entire world,” Lankford continued. “The Emiratis know that. We want to be able to continue to cooperate with everyone in the region.”

A spokesperson for Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), another lead sponsor of the MARITIME Act, told JI that she will “continue working to strengthen regional security cooperation through her legislative efforts.”

“The Abraham Accords and Congress’s legislative efforts to bolster partnerships in the Middle East present a unique opportunity to promote collective security to defend against Iranian aggression,” the Rosen spokesperson said. “Senator Rosen believes that the U.S. should continue to closely engage with partners in the Middle East to make clear our enduring commitment to regional security and the benefits of U.S.-led multilateral naval partnerships.”

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