ABU DHABI, UAE —
The United Arab Emirates' top diplomat on Wednesday came out in defense of President Donald Trump's order temporarily barring citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.
The comments by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Gulf federation's foreign minister, could help bolster the administration's assertion that the directive was not intended as a ban against Muslims.
The UAE minister said the U.S. was within its rights to take what he said was a "sovereign decision" concerning immigration - the first such remarks in support of Trump's move from the Gulf Arab region - and he voiced faith in the American administration's assurances that the move was not based on religion.
Sheikh Abdullah also noted that most of the world's Muslim-majority countries were not covered by the order, which halts entry for 90 days to citizens of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen.
"This is a temporary ban and it will be revised in three months, so it is important that we put into consideration this point," he said following talks with his Russian counterpart in the Emirati capital, Abu Dhabi.
"Some of these countries that were on this list are countries that face structural problems," he continued. "These countries should try to solve these issues ... and these circumstances before trying to solve this issue with the United States."
The Emirates is one of the United States' closest Arab allies. It is part of the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group and hosts American troops and warplanes taking part in the anti-IS campaign. It is also home to a center backed by the U.S. that aims to counter extremist propaganda online.
The seven-state federation prides itself on being a tolerant, forward-looking nation that also embraces its traditional Arab and Islamic heritage. The local population is dwarfed some four-to-one by foreign residents, many of whom are not Muslim.
Trump made a point of speaking with the powerful Abu Dhabi crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, and Saudi King Salman in his first calls to Arab allies this week. Sheikh Mohammed is the foreign minister's brother and is likely to be the next Emirati president.
America's largest Arab export market, the Emirates also has commercial connections to the new U.S. president.
Trump has lent his name to a soon-to-open golf course and real-estate project being developed in the Emirati city of Dubai, the Middle East's commercial hub. The Abu Dhabi tourism office is a tenant of Trump Tower in New York.
Sheikh Abdullah and Sergey Lavrov discussed a range of regional issues including the war in Syria during their meeting, which included Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit. Trump's order also includes a suspension of refugee admissions for 120 days, and bans Syrian refugees from entering indefinitely.
Lavrov expressed a willingness to engage with the new U.S. administration on the establishment of safe zones in Syria, something that Trump has expressed interest in creating. But he suggested more details were needed.
"As I understand it, when the Americans are talking about safe zones, first of all they are interested in reducing the number of immigrants - especially through Syria - from going to the West," he said.