UAE Snubs London’s Lord Mayor as Row Over Sudan Role Deepens

(Bloomberg) -- The UAE has canceled meetings with London’s Lord Mayor and other British officials as a dispute deepened over the Persian Gulf nation’s alleged role in the civil war ravaging Sudan.

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Lord Mayor Michael Mainelli, the ceremonial head of the City of London, saw plans for meetings with United Arab Emirates officials to discuss green finance this week called off at the last minute, according to a person familiar with the matter. Separately, UK Science Minister Andrew Griffith had an invitation to visit the UAE to discuss space cooperation rescinded, according to another person familiar with the situation.

The diplomatic dust-up comes after the UK joined the US in increasing pressure on the UAE to withdraw backing for the Rapid Support Forces in Sudan. The militia group is threatening to move on a city that’s home to more than 2 million people in western Sudan.

War erupted in the East African nation on April 15 last year, when the RSF militia and Sudan’s army turned on each other. That followed months of talks over merging their forces and transitioning the mineral-rich country toward democracy. The fighting has killed almost 15,000 people and left half of the population of 50 million in need of food assistance. Some 11 million are displaced internally, and the capital, Khartoum, lies in ruins.

The UAE is a key backer of the RSF, supplying it with weapons and funding, according to a report by United Nations investigators seen by Bloomberg in January. The US is engaged in talks with Emirati officials about their role in the war, while the UK has initiated discussions on Sudan at the UN Security Council in New York. Those moves have irked officials from the UAE.

Last month, UK Deputy Foreign Secretary Andrew Mitchell told Channel 4 News that his boss, David Cameron, had raised the issue directly with the UAE. “They must not allow arms to get into this conflict — because if they do it will damage them, as well as everyone else. So it’s a message which Britain is putting very forcefully,” Mitchell said.

The UAE affirmed its “categorical rejection” of the allegations in a statement on Tuesday, saying the country was engaging with the US and others to work for a settlement. “This dissemination of disinformation and false narratives by a warring side of the conflict after more than a year of this crisis aims to only deflect responsibility and undermine international efforts to address the humanitarian crisis in Sudan,” the UAE said.

The UAE said it had no comment on questions about the canceled meetings with British officials. The UK Foreign Office didn’t respond to a request for comment. The City of London Corporation declined to comment.

Mainelli took over in November as Lord Mayor — a role that involves promoting the City of London abroad through overseas trips and hosting dignitaries at Mansion House in London. Mainelli and the UK delegation were due to see businesses in the UAE since their meetings with government officials have been canceled, said the person familiar with the matter.

Britain’s role in the dispute has also disappointed the government in Sudan, which has accused London of not doing enough in the UN to highlight UAE activities. The Sudanese Foreign Ministry said in a statement Tuesday that it “regrets that Britain is abandoning its moral and political duty as a permanent member of the Security Council and its obligation to address Sudanese issues in the council.”

The episode is putting further strain on the UK’s relationship with the UAE. The Persian Gulf nation has pledged to invest some £15 billion ($18.8 billion) in Britain to support areas such as the life sciences and the energy transition, Bloomberg reported last month.

Earlier on Tuesday, the UAE-backed RedBird IMI withdrew its bid to acquire British media titles the Telegraph and the Spectator, after stiff political opposition prompted Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to move to block the sale.

The UAE is considering several large investments in the UK, including at Heathrow Airport and the Sizewell C nuclear facility. Britain is also hoping to strike a free trade deal with the six Gulf nations that form the Gulf Cooperation Council.

--With assistance from Paul Wallace, Zainab Fattah and Mohammed Alamin.

(Updates with UAE no comment in eighth paragraph.)

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