World News

Israeli minister visits Abu Dhabi, a first for UAE

ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Israel’s infrastructure minister Uzi Landau visited the United Arab Emirates at the weekend for a renewable energy conference, amid tight security, in the first visit by an Israeli minister to the Gulf state.

Landau was in the country for a conference of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), based in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi. Israel’s arch-foe Iran also attended the meeting, as did other Arab states with no ties with Israel.

“It is the first time that an Israeli minister visited the UAE. I have to say the reception was nice and in line with all the rules that the people in Abu Dhabi promised to grant to countries that do not have (permanent) delegations in their country,” Landau told Israel Radio.

According to his office, Landau arrived on Friday and left on Sunday. He did not take part in conference on Saturday.

Like most Arab countries, the UAE has no diplomatic ties with the Jewish state and Israelis are routinely denied entry.

Iran, a member of IRENA, was represented by a delegation led by its deputy minister for electricity and power affairs, Abbas Aliabadi.

IRENA’s interim director-general Helene Pellosse said that although Israel and the UAE have no diplomatic ties, Israel was accommodated in accordance with specific agreements.

Three countries -- South Africa, Kyrgistan and St.Vincent & Grenada -- joined as new members on Sunday, she said, adding that Saudi Arabia has agreed in principle to join and is likely to sign up shortly.

The UAE sparked a firestorm last year when it refused to grant a visa to Israeli player Shahar Peer to take part in a $2 million tennis tournament in Dubai.

Tournament officials defended their stance, saying local fans would have boycotted the event if an Israeli was allowed to compete and that Peer’s safety could also have been compromised.

But the controversy prompted the United Arab Emirates to change its policy of barring Israeli athletes. Days after Peer was excluded, another Israeli was given “special permission” by UAE authorities to play in a men’s tournament.

Landau told the conference that it was significant to be holding talks on green energy in a region that is home to many of the world’s biggest oil producing states, and said Israel wanted to share in helping solve the region’s water woes.

“We can’t talk about building a greener world without touching on the problem of water ... We in Israel in the last 60 years turned a desert into a flourishing country. We want to participate and contribute our experiences with whoever shares with us this problem,” he said, according to a written copy of his speech to the conference.

Reporting by Stanley Carvalho in Abu Dhabi and Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem; Editing by Dominic Evans