Iran urged to change to improve ties with Gulf

May 31, 2014 - 3:33:30 am

KUWAIT CITY: Iran must prove through actions that it is willing to make key policy changes to mend fences with Gulf Arabs, analysts said ahead of a landmark visit by Kuwait’s emir.

The weekend visit of H H Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, whose country currently heads the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the Arab summit, is an opportunity for Tehran to turn over a new leaf in Gulf ties, they said.

It comes amid a thaw in relations between Shia Iran and the Sunni-ruled Gulf states despite high tensions mainly over the conflict in Syria, where Iran is accused of military interference.

“It’s a significant visit and a very important opportunity to show if Iran really wants to develop its ties with the Gulf and open a new page with them,” said Riad Kahwaji, head of the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis.

“So far, Tehran’s policies haven’t changed... it has bolstered its military involvement in Syria and dispatched troops to support the regime against the people. It has also increased its interference in Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.

“Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia, won’t accept Iran’s control of any Arab country for improving ties,” said Kahwaji.

Saudi Arabia and its neighbours have been deeply suspicious of Iran’s nuclear ambitions and wary of talks under way between Tehran and world powers aimed at striking a long-term compromise.

Ahead of the emir’s visit, his first as head of state, Kuwait expressed hope it would strengthen “security, stability and peace in the region”. Kuwait, whose native population is one-third Shia, has balanced ties with Tehran, even reportedly acting as a mediator to break the deadlock in the Islamic republic’s relations with regional rival Riyadh.

For years, Iran’s relations with the Gulf states have been frosty, but Tehran launched a diplomatic offensive aimed at easing these tensions since the election of self-declared moderate Hassan Rouhani as president in June 2013. In December, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif toured Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar, but skipped Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

Two weeks ago, however, his Saudi counterpart Prince Saud Al Faisal invited Zarif to visit, and Tehran welcomed the invitation without a date being set. And on Thursday, Iran welcomed as a “friendly” gesture a Saudi invitation to a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation next month in Jeddah, where Zarif may meet Prince Saud.aFP