Iran’s top security official Ali Shamkhani will visit the United Arab Emirates on Thursday, in the latest sign of improving ties between the Islamic republic and Gulf states.
The high-profile visit comes after Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed last week to end a seven-year rift and restore diplomatic ties within two months. The agreement between the rival Middle East powers was part of a China-brokered deal signed by Shamkhani and his Saudi counterpart in Beijing.
Iranian analysts say Shamkhani has added credibility as a regional dealmaker because the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, appointed him secretary of the powerful Supreme National Security Council.
“The fact that Shamkhani is directly involved in such talks shows that the Islamic Republic is committed to improving its relations with the Arab states in the Gulf,” said Saeed Lailaz, an Iranian political analyst. He added that Shamkhani’s priorities at this week’s talks should be ending the nine-year Yemen conflict and facilitating foreign currency transfers to Iran.
Nournews, affiliated with Iran’s leading security outfit, said Thursday’s visit to Abu Dhabi was in response to a December 2021 visit to Iran by Sheikh Tahnun bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, UAE national security adviser.
Sheikh Tahnoon also made a secret visit to Iran in 2019 to help ease tensions between the two neighbors after attacks on oil tankers off the coast of the UAE, which the US blamed on Iran. The attacks raised fears in Abu Dhabi that Tehran could target US ally the UAE in retaliation for crippling sanctions imposed by then-US President Donald Trump.
Drone attacks on the UAE capital Abu Dhabi last year, claimed by Iran-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen, highlighted its vulnerability to attacks. The Gulf state, which normalized ties with Israel in 2020, is also keen to distance itself from any possible military action by the Jewish state against Iran.
Senior economic, banking and security officials will accompany Shamkhani for these talks on bilateral, regional and international issues, Noornews said. Iran has used businesses in the UAE’s commercial hubs over the past 10 years to evade debilitating sanctions imposed by the US in response to Iran’s nuclear program, according to analysts.
The UAE has been one of Iran’s top trading partners for decades, even during difficult times between the two states. The latest official figures from Tehran show that $13.6bn worth of goods were imported into Iran by the Gulf state, accounting for 30.7 per cent of all imports during the first 10 months of this Iranian year, which ends next week.
Relations between the UAE and Iran deteriorated after Iranian vigilantes attacked the Saudi embassy in Tehran in 2016 to protest the kingdom’s execution of a senior Shiite cleric. The UAE responded by recalling its ambassador to Tehran. Last year it restored full diplomatic relations after a tentative rapprochement.
Tehran’s recent diplomatic moves have raised hopes among many Iranians and the country’s business community that Iran’s hardline leaders are preparing to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. But despite thawing regional ties, there has been no strong indication from Iran’s leaders that they are ready to return to the nuclear deal. Trump pulled out of the agreement in 2018.
“Iran eventually has no choice but to make concessions with the US as the two have reached a dead end in their dealings with each other,” Lailaz added, “but for now Iranians are relieved that some progress is being made in foreign policy”.