Amid positive signals from Iran and the West surrounding nuclear talks, both the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait have quietly restored diplomatic relations with Tehran. Iran’s foreign ministry said on Monday that talks with Saudi Arabia to restore relations were also moving in a positive direction.
Eyes are on the bigger payoff in a diplomatic reconciliation between Tehran and its longtime nemesis, Riyadh. Relations between Iran and the UAE and Saudi Arabia were severed in 2016 following the execution of Saudi Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr.
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani told reporters on Monday that the positive regional climate was boosting optimism over a possible resumption of diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia. Both Iraq and Oman helped broker informal talks between Tehran and Riyadh.
Iran has been working to improve relations with Saudi Arabia and has seen reciprocal measures from Saudi Arabia, Khanani said. “We are optimistic that a positive regional atmosphere is fostering a path of communication and dialogue, and ultimately better relations,” he said.
Kanani went on to say that serious differences and thorny issues remain between Tehran and Riyadh, but “positive steps have been taken” on the negotiating track.
Khattar Abou Diab, who teaches political science at the University of Paris, told VOA that the nuclear talks in Vienna created a positive regional atmosphere, which helped improve relations between Iran and former rivals Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
He said the Saudi-Iranian talks in Baghdad and the improvement in relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia gave the impression of calming tensions in the region and a logic of discussing differences rather than taking a path of conflict.
According to Abou Diab, “Despite repeated attacks on the UAE by Iran’s Houthi allies, trade relations between the UAE and Iran have never been interrupted, and a good-neighborly policy still prevails.”
Theodore Karasik, a Washington-based Gulf analyst, told VOA that “in the current changing strategic environment, the restoration of diplomatic relations between the UAE and Iran is very important”.
He noted, “More interaction between the UAE and Tehran is seen as necessary due to the geographic and economic recovery from the pandemic and other issues. The two sides will still disagree on policy goals, but at the same time, they need the form (the relationship) in the cooperation, negotiation and debate in areas with overlapping interests outside the Gulf.”
Atlantic Council Middle East analyst Paul Sullivan told VOA that trade between Iran and the United Arab Emirates “peaked in 2017 … and dropped to a trickle after the two countries severed ties.” “There may be 5 to 600,000 Iranians in Dubai,” he noted.
“The tensions between the GCC and Iran, the war in Yemen and Iran’s support for Hezbollah and other terrorist groups in the region have caused serious panic in the UAE,” he added.
“The fact that the UAE sent an ambassador to Iran,” he believes, “doesn’t mean everything is fine. More likely,” he argued, “it means more understanding is needed to develop future relations. U.S. sanctions remain Applies to Iranians in the UAE and financial and other arrangements between the UAE and Iran,” he noted.