Iran rushes regional thaw in UAE as it hopes for sanctions relief

TEHRAN — Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian sat down with Emirati President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed on Thursday, as part of growing efforts that have seen Tehran mending strained ties with regional Arab rivals.  

The government-run IRNA news agency said Amir-Abdollahian had conveyed Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s formal invitation to his Emirati counterpart to visit Tehran.  

Iran and the United Arab Emirates relaunched diplomatic ties last August following a six-year hiatus. In 2016, Abu Dhabi followed the suit of its ally, Saudi Arabia, which shut down its Iran missions after they were stormed by Iranian hard-liners enraged by the kingdom’s execution of a Shiite cleric.  

Yet as recently as last week, Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan was in Tehran as part of a China-brokered reconciliation deal in March that triggered a surprise push for an end to seven years of hostilities.  

In Abu Dhabi, Amir-Abdollahian discussed consular and bilateral trade with his Emirati counterpart, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, according to Iranian outlets, which also extensively reposted footage of the “friendly and intimate” gesture by the Emirati minister driving the Iranian diplomat around in his private vehicle.  

Separately, they said, an agreement was in the pipeline between the two sides to facilitate bilateral investment, one that will ease taxation and tariffs and is expected to be finalized by ministers of finance from the two sides.  

The Iranian minister’s visit to the UAE was the last leg of a regional tour that took him earlier to Qatar, Oman and Kuwait. During the tour, Amir-Abdollahian tweeted about Iran’s willingness to help shape a regional forum aimed at strengthening relations among Persian Gulf states. The proposal came against the backdrop of the UAE’s announcement in May that it was pulling out of a US-led maritime coalition.  

In neighboring Qatar, Amir-Abdollahian’s deputy and Iran’s chief negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani has been engaged in a parallel mission. He wrote on Wednesday about his “constructive” discussions with EU foreign policy official Enrique Mora over “sanctions lifting.” Iranian officials typically use the term to refer to long-stalled talks on the revival of the 2015 nuclear deal, from which the US government withdrew in 2018. 

Still, recent reports have been increasingly suggesting that Tehran and Washington could be inching closer to what might culminate in some “understanding” that will see Iran rolling back some of its controversial nuclear activities in exchange for some relief from American sanctions.  

While the two arch-enemies on the official front have been expressing diplomatically framed comments, they have not denied pushes for such an arrangement, leaving Iranian papers and pundits with speculation that a deal is around the corner.  

“Concrete steps toward the resurrection of the nuclear deal,” read the headline from the moderate Jomhouri Eslami daily on its Thursday edition, as an economic paper highlighted how Iranian markets were “smiling at diplomacy,” with the pro-reform Etemad celebrating the “slow heartbeats” of an accord that has long been on life support.  

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