Middle East

Joe Biden apologises to UAE for Syria extremist comments

Vice President Joe Biden speaks to students faculty and staff at Harvard University"s Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Mass. on 2 October 2014 Image copyright AP
Image caption Joe Biden was talking to students at Harvard University when he made the controversial comments

US Vice-President Joe Biden has apologised to the United Arab Emirates after suggesting it had fuelled the rise of extremist groups in Syria.

The White House confirmed the call to the UAE, a day after Mr Biden offered a similar apology to Turkey.

The authorities in the UAE had earlier condemned his remarks to students at Harvard University last week.

The UAE is among several Arab states that have joined the US-led alliance against jihadists in Syria and Iraq.

The coalition has been bombing the extremist Islamic State (IS) group, which controls a broad swathe of territory in Iraq and Syria, in recent weeks.

'Amazing' comments

Mr Biden told the Harvard students on Thursday that Turkey, the UAE and Saudi Arabia had extended "billions of dollars and tens of thousands of tonnes of weapons" to Sunni fighters battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

He called the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, on Sunday to offer his apologies, following a request from the UAE authorities for "a formal clarification" of the comments.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) was said to have reacted furiously to Joe Biden's comments

His remarks were "amazing and ignore the role of the Emirates in the fight against extremism and terrorism," UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Mohammad Gargash said, quoted by state-run WAM news agency.

In the telephone call, Mr Biden said that his remarks "regarding the early stages of the conflict in Syria were not meant to imply that the UAE had facilitated or supported IS, al-Qaeda or other extremist groups in Syria".

It is the second time in two days that he has had to call a key coalition partner to clarify his remarks.

On Saturday, he rang Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after he reacted angrily to the comments, saying that if "Mr Biden used such language, that would make him a man of the past for me".

It is not unusual for Joe Biden to speak his mind but recently he has found himself back-pedalling fast multiple times, says the BBC's Tom Esslemont in Washington.

There is no suggestion it will affect the strategic partnership with Turkey or the UAE, but his comments have clearly struck a raw nerve, he adds.

The latest development comes amid reports that Australia and Belgium have flown their first missions in Iraq, with Belgian jets carrying out their first bombing raid against Islamic State (IS) militants there.