Israeli minister visits Gulf emirate of Abu Dhabi for the first time

By Barbara Surk, AP
Sunday, January 17, 2010

Israeli minister visits Abu Dhabi for first time

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Israel for the first time sent a Cabinet minister to the United Arab Emirates, a small Gulf country with which it doesn’t have relations, to attend a conference on alternative energy.

National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau told The Associated Press on Sunday he did not meet with any Emirati officials while attending a conference of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), based in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi. The agency’s activities are open to Israel because it is a member state.

Landau said the Israeli delegation entered the country after “special arrangements” were made. “They had to do it since they committed themselves to making it possible for all member states, with or without relations, to participate in the agency’s activities,” Landau said in a phone interview from Abu Dhabi.

Last year the UAE denied entry to Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer to an international tournament in Dubai. The UAE officials said Peer was denied a visa because of anti-Israel sentiments in the Gulf state following last year’s three-week war between Israel and Islamic militants in Gaza.

The tournament was fined a record $300,000 for refusing Peer the entry. Last week the UAE authorities sent a written assurance to the World Tennis Association that all players who will qualify for the 2010 championships will be allowed into the country and welcome to play in Dubai.

On Sunday, an official with the UAE’s Foreign Ministry told The Associated Press that allowing Israel Cabinet minister to participate in the agency’s activities was “part of obligations in hosting (the agency) in the UAE.”

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press. He added, that Israel’s participation in the international event in the oil-rich Abu Dhabi will have “no implications or indications for bilateral links between the UAE and any other party.”

Israel only has diplomatic relations with two Arab countries, Egypt and Jordan.

Last year, Mauritania and Qatar suspended contacts with Israel to protest the Gaza bloodshed. Mauritania, an Arab League member, had full diplomatic relations with Israel. Qatar, an energy-rich Gulf state had maintained low-level relations with the Jewish state by hosting an Israeli trade office in the capital Doha since 1996.

IRENA was established a year ago with a mission to promote sustainable use of al forms of renewable energy. In June, Abu Dhabi was selected as the agency’s headquarters.

It’s the first ever international organization based in the UAE.

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