US Vice President Joe Biden kicked off a Middle East tour Monday, vowing that the United States and its allies would “squeeze the heart” and destroy ISIS.
Biden spoke before several hundred US airmen as drones rolled the down the runway at the Al-Dhafra Air Base, a major desert outpost near the United Arab Emirates capital, Abu Dhabi.
The Emirates is one of the most important US military and political allies. It is also a major commercial hub that includes the business-friendly port city of Dubai.
“We have to squeeze the heart of Daesh in Iraq and Syria so they can’t continue to pump their poison in the region and around the world,” Biden said, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS, a militant group he dismissed as “criminals and cowards.”
The base hosts American and other aircraft taking part in operations against ISIS in Iraq and Syria - a point Biden noted as he rallied the assembled troops.
You control the skies over Iraq and Syria and as a matter of fact, you control the skies over the whole damn world," Biden said, drawing cheers.
The Emirates is the first stop on a regional tour that will also take in Israel, the West Bank and Jordan. His wife, Jill, is accompanying him.
The trip will include talks on US economic and energy interests, as well as security concerns about Iran and Syria, the White House said.
Earlier in the day, Biden visited Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, pausing outside to remove his black dress shoes in keeping with Islamic custom.
He examined a wall in the ornate mosque bearing the 99 names of God written in Arabic before stepping outside to wave at visiting tourists kept a short distance away.
Accompanying Biden on the mosque tour was its director-general, Yousif Abdallah Alobaidli, and Minister of State Reem al-Hashimi.
Biden later visited Masdar City, a government-backed clean energy campus on the capital's outskirts, taking a few moments to talk to Shefaa Mansour, a student from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, studying at the affiliated Masdar Institute.
He later looked at a model of a desalination plant, something crucial to the Emirates, which experts warn may run out of groundwater in the next 15 years. Emirati Minister of State Sultan al-Jaber handed him a bottle of water made at the plant. The vice president looked at it, then smiled.
“Now make sure I’m still standing, he said. “Watch what happens when I take the first sip. I’m more energized.”
Biden then paused for a moment and added: “Do you need a partner? I’m out of a job soon.”
The seven-state Emirates federation, which includes the Gulf commercial center of Dubai, is one of the largest oil producers in OPEC.
It hosts regional offices for numerous American companies in industries including aerospace, energy, technology and hospitality. Dubai state-owned airline Emirates is the largest operator of Chicago-based Boeing Co.'s 777 wide-body jet.
The Emirates is also a member of the US-led coalition fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
In announcing Biden’s trip last week, the White House said the Emirates visit will highlight the strong relationship “with one of our closest regional allies covering the full range of political, economic, and security ties.”
Biden’s visit to the country is expected to include talks with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the powerful crown prince of Abu Dhabi, and Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, who is the federation’s vice president and prime minister.
Biden is not expected to offer any new initiative on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when he travels to Israel and the West Bank. The White House has said it does not believe either side has the political will for reviving the peace process.