Arriving US ambassador says UAE is 'one of our most important partners'

John Rakolta Jr arrived in Abu Dhabi at the weekend

Shortly after he was sworn in at the State Department, Ambassador John Rakolta went yesterday to confer with National security advisor at the White House  Robert O’Brien and Senior Director for the Middle East at National Security Council Victoria Coates.
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The new US ambassador to the UAE said he is dedicated to expanding relations with “one of our most important partners in the region,” as he arrived to take up his post this weekend.

John Rakolta Jr arrived in Abu Dhabi on October 27, the embassy announced on Tuesday, after he was confirmed by the US Senate last week.

“Our nations share a deep commitment to regional security, bilateral commercial ties, and cultural and educational exchange,” Mr Rakolta said on his arrival. “I am dedicated to expanding the enduring relationship between the US and the UAE, strengthening the links that make the UAE one of our most important partners in the region.”

The appointment of Mr Rakolta ends an 18-month vacancy since Barbara Leaf left last year.

The son of Romanian immigrants, Mr Rakolta, 71, was born and raised in Detroit. Unlike many of his predecessors, he comes from a business background and is the first political appointee to become ambassador to the UAE, a position that is usually reserved for career diplomats.

Since 1980, he served as chairman and chief executive of the 100-year-old construction company Walbridge. Speaking to Congress in June regarding his appointment, he took credit for developing Walbridge "from a $40 million regional company into a $1.6 billion international enterprise of nearly 2,000 employees".

He also said growing trade, which in 2018 was worth $24.6bn (Dh22.2bn) in 2018, would be a major focus of his term.

Mr Rakolta said the relationship between the UAE and the US was “critical to our national security interests and is a moderating and stabilising force in one of the world’s most volatile regions”.

He told Congress that supporting a political solution in Yemen and countering Iranian threats in the Gulf would also take priority.

“The president has been clear that Iran is responsible for the May 12 attacks on four commercial vessels off the coast of Fujairah, and the June 13 attacks on two vessels in the Gulf of Oman,” he said.

The UAE has not accused Iran directly of carrying the attacks but the US has.

“The Iranian regime poses a major threat to freedom of navigation and maritime security," Mr Rakolta said.

"I will work to support the administration’s efforts to keep the Strait of Hormuz open."

The US embassy statement announcing Mr Rakolta’s appointment noted that he is a “a civic activist, especially on race relations, K-12 education and economic development.”