ABU DHABI (Reuters) - The United Arab Emirates, one of the world's top aviation hubs, has said it was surprised by the ban on laptops in plane cabins bound for the United States because UAE security was already tight, but it pledged to cooperate with U.S. authorities.


Washington announced the new measure on Tuesday, prohibiting electronic devices larger than smart phones in cabins on flights from 10 airports in countries including the UAE, Qatar and Turkey.


That will hit Gulf carriers Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways but not U.S. airlines, none of which fly to those airports.


In the UAE's first official response to the ban, Sultan bin Saeed al-Mansouri, Minister of Economy and chairman of the General Civil Aviation Authority, said it was surprising because the UAE aviation sector and airports had proven themselves safe.


"The UAE is the number one ranked country worldwide by the International Civil Aviation Organization regarding the UAE's compliance with international security and safety standards," he said in a statement late on Thursday.


Mansouri also noted differences between the U.S. ban and a similar step by Britain. The British restrictions do not include the UAE or Qatar, but will affect other carriers including Turkish Airlines.

However, the UAE's statement said its aviation authority and airlines would continue cooperating with authorities in the United States and around the world to ensure safety.

The restrictions has prompted speculations that the move, enacted by President Donald Trump's administration, is to protect U.S. airlines by stifling the growth of the Gulf carriers and Turkish Airlines, a theory dismissed by U.S. officials and many experts.

The Gulf airlines have been battling a lobbying campaign in Washington by U.S. carriers that accuse them of receiving unfair subsidies, charges that the Gulf carriers deny.

But Ian Bremmer, the president of political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, doubts these claims. He believes the decision behind the laptop ban lies with the Trump administration's policy on battling jihadist groups.

"This is not being driven by an effort to gain competitive economic advantage. I would be very surprised if that was what drove the policy," he said.

"I think that overwhelmingly, this is an administration and a president that is focused on radical Islamic terror. And they want to show that they are taking action," he told state-linked Abu Dhabi English-language newspaper The National.

UAE carriers Emirates and Etihad are bracing themselves with the new measures set to come into effect on Saturday during the traditionally busy spring break travel period.

Etihad is encouraging passengers to pack their electronics in with their check in luggage, however, will allow devices to be handed over at boarding in a similar move announced by Emirates earlier this week, an airline spokesman told Reuters in an emailed statement on Thursday.

(Reporting by Stanley Carvalho; additional reporting by Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Andrew Torchia and Vin Shahrestani)