WASHINGTON – President George W. Bush is returning the favor once again for the opulent hospitality he received in the United Arab Emirates this year.
At the Camp David retreat in rustic Maryland, Bush planned a Sunday afternoon welcome for Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the emirate's prime minister and ruler of Dubai.
His overnight stay at the presidential compound follows a visit to Camp David in late June by Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, another in the UAE's string of seven semiautonomous emirates.
A Camp David invitation is a plum for world leaders, so the friendly treatment for an oil-rich Persian Gulf nation sends a signal about just how important the United States considers the tiny emirates.
"The ruler of Dubai is an important figure in the emirates and an influential figure around the world," said Gordon Johndroe, Bush's national security spokesman.
Bush spent one night in the UAE during a Mideast trip in January, staying at a luxurious hotel and traveling to the desert for a sumptuous dinner.
While in the UAE, Bush visited both Abu Dhabi, the capital that has the lion's share of the country's oil resources, and Dubai, the largest emirate in population that is in the midst of a boom as its leaders shape it into a major financial center.
Economic matters were among the expected topics for discussion at the meetings Sunday, along with Iran's destabilizing influence in the region, counterterrorism efforts and high oil prices. The UAE also recently decided to cancel billions of dollars in Iraqi debt, appoint an ambassador to Baghdad and reopen its embassy in the capital.
Dubai is a coastal tourist haven with flashy hotels and glitzy skyscrapers, but also a Muslim country with traditionally conservative values.
The UAE has few political freedoms for its citizens, which makes Bush's warm treatment somewhat awkward in the face of his push to seed democracy, particularly in the Arab world. In the UAE, an elite group of royal rulers makes virtually all the decisions.
On Monday, Bush begins a weeklong trip to Asia, with stops in South Korea, Thailand and China, where he attends the Olympics in Beijing.