ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Britain's Queen Elizabeth II toured one of the world's largest mosques Wednesday in her first state visit in more than 30 years to the United Arab Emirates, a country with deep British ties.
The 84-year-old monarch wore a white hat covered by a gold scarf at Abu Dhabi's Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque, part of a massive marble complex that contains the tomb of the late Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the first president of the UAE after it gained statehood following more than 100 years as a British protectorate.
The queen, accompanied by her husband Prince Philip and Emirati leaders, paused for a moment outside the mosque to remove her shoes. Her outfit for the visit also included white gloves and an ankle-length white dress and coat. She made no comments as journalists looked on.
Her delegation also includes British Foreign Secretary William Hague — underscoring the region's strategic significance.
Britain's historical links to the area stretch back to the 19th century. The UAE became a nation in 1971 after more than a century under British protection as part of a truce to protect ships sailing the important trade routes to India.
Britain also played a key role in building the UAE military and other institutions.
The queen last visited the UAE in 1979 before the country underwent a stunning economic expansion that has drawn workers and companies from around the world, including more than 100,000 Britons and 4,000 British businesses.
She plans to travel Thursday to neighboring Oman.
In Abu Dhabi, the British foreign secretary is expected to sign a number of pacts including a nuclear cooperation accord with Emirati leaders. The UAE's first nuclear reactors are being built by a South Korean consortium with the first phase expected to begin operations in 2017.
In an apparent jab at Iran's nuclear standoff with the West, Hague praised the UAE's nuclear program is "based on transparency and international cooperation."
"It is a model that we would encourage other states in the Middle East to emulate," he wrote in the Dubai-based Gulf News on Wednesday.
The queen's schedule in the UAE includes formally launching a project for a new National Museum, which is being developed by partners including the British Museum.