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UAE leader's meeting with Trump officials surfaces amid Russia probe

Susan Rice says she revealed names of senior Trump transition officials to highlight unannounced UAE visit
UAE Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed came to New York in December to meet Trump transition team members, including Steve Bannon, Mike Flynn and Jared Kushner, CNN said (AFP)

Senior members of President Donald Trump's transition team including Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon met Mohammed bin Zayed, crown prince of the UAE, in December, according to classified testimony to Congress, CNN has reported.

In closed hearings to the House of Representatives investigating possible collusion between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia, former national security adviser Susan Rice revealed the names of senior Trump transition officials who met bin Zayed, CNN reported.

The New York meeting was followed by Zayed’s creation of a secret back channel between Erik Prince, founder of controversial security firm Blackwater and a person close to Trump, and Russian authorities.

CNN said Zayed “arrived in New York last December in the transition period before Trump was sworn into office for a meeting with several top Trump officials, including Michael Flynn, the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner, and his top strategist Steve Bannon,” citing multiple sources who wished to remain anonymous.

Even though details of Rice’s classified testimony remain unknown, the meeting in New York raises questions about whether Trump transition officials discussed anything Russia-related in their New York meeting with Zayed.

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Rice “told the House Intelligence Committee last week that she requested the names of the Americans mentioned in the classified report be revealed internally, a practice officials in both parties say is common,” CNN reported.

Rice declined to comment on her testimony.

Sources told CNN that the New York meeting concerned “a range of issues, including Iran, Yemen and the Mideast peace process,” and said there was no discussion on a secret back channel with Russia.

"The meeting was about ascertaining the Trump team's view of the region and sharing the UAE's view of the region and what the US role should be," a Middle East official told CNN. "No one was coming in to sell anything or arrange anything."

Investigators have also been raising questions about a January meeting in the Seychelles, which was revealed by the Washington Post in April.

American, European and Arab officials told the Washington Post that the talks, which also involved Erik Prince, took place in the Seychelles about 10 days before Trump took office.

Details of that meeting remain unclear, but sources told the Post that it involved Russia shedding its alliance with Iran. The UAE shares the Trump administration's animosity towards Tehran, and Zayed hoped the meeting would influence Russia to distance itself from the Islamic Republic, the Post said.

Zayed reportedly asked Putin in 2016 to end Russia's relationship with Iran.

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