Nine days before President Trump's inauguration, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi helped arrange a clandestine meeting in the Seychelles islands between Erik Prince, the founder of the security firm Blackwater and a major Trump supporter, and a Russian close to President Vladimir Putin, in an apparent attempt to establish a backchannel conduit between Putin and Trump, several U.S., European, and Arab officials told The Washington Post.
The Abu Dhabi prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, agreed to broker the meeting because the United Arab Emirates, like the U.S., wants Russia to cool its relationship with Iran, officials said. Prince, who did not have a formal role with the Trump campaign or transition team, approached al-Nahyan about setting up the meeting, saying he was an unofficial Trump envoy, The Post reports. The crown prince suggested holding it in the Seychelles for privacy. While the meeting was considered positive by the UAE and Russia, they opted not to arrange any other summits between Putin's friend, who has not been identified, and Prince because of the political risk, officials said.
Prince is the brother of Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, and he regularly appeared on a radio program hosted by Stephen Bannon, Trump's chief strategist. He gave $250,000 to Trump's campaign. Blackwater became famous during the Iraq War, when guards from the firm were convicted of killing Iraqis in a public square in 2007, and Prince later sold the company. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the administration is "not aware of any meetings and Erik Prince had no role in the transition," while a testy spokesman for Prince told The Post the meeting "had nothing to do with President Trump. Why is the so-called under-resourced intelligence community messing around with surveillance of American citizens when they should be hunting terrorists?"