By Parisa Hafezi
DUBAI -The United Arab Emirates’ senior national security adviser met his Iranian counterpart and hardline President Ebrahim Raisi in a rare visit to Iran on Monday in a move aimed at overcoming their long-standing differences and increasing co-operation.
Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s visit took place days after Tehran and world powers broke off talks in Vienna as Western officials voiced dismay about Iran’s sweeping demands for salvaging the 2015 nuclear pact, which Washington abandoned three years ago, reimposing harsh sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
Sheikh Tahnoon, a brother of the UAE‘s de facto ruler, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, discussed expanding bilateral ties and regional issues with Iran’s top security official, Ali Shamkhani, Iran’s Nournews reported.
“Stability and security can only be established through continuous dialogue and cooperation between the regional countries,” Shamkhani said, according to state TV.
“Improving economic, trade and investment ties are the main priorities of Iran’s foreign policy.”
With business ties to Iran stretching back over a century, the emirate of Dubai, 150 km (100 miles) across the Gulf, has long been one of Iran’s main links to the outside world.
But they have been on different sides on the war in Yemen. The UAE is a key member of the Saudi-led coalition which backs the internationally recognised government against Iran-aligned Houthi fighters.
“Joint efforts are necessary to end some of the military and security crises in the region… Dialogue should replace military approaches to resolve disputes,” Shamkhani said.
Iran’s Gulf Arab neighbours want an end to Tehran’s push for dominance in the region, where it competes with rival Saudi Arabia for influence from Syria and Iraq to Yemen and Bahrain.
Taking a hawkish stance on Iran, Abu Dhabi swiftly backed Washington’s decision to ditch the nuclear deal three years ago. But in 2019, the UAE started engaging with Tehran’s clerical rulers following attacks on tankers off Gulf waters and on Saudi energy infrastructure.
Sunni Muslim power Saudi Arabia began direct talks with Iran in April, with Riyadh describing the talks as “cordial” but largely exploratory.
“Developing warm and brotherly relations between Abu Dhabi and Tehran is one of the UAE‘s priorities,” Sheikh Tahnoon said during his meeting with Shamkhani, according to Iranian media.
Analysts said Tehran can ill afford to lose Dubai as a trade route, particularly since U.S. sanctions have drastically reduced its oil exports and made doing international business increasingly complicated.
Anwar Gargash, diplomatic adviser to the UAE president, said last month that the UAE was taking steps to de-escalate tensions with Iran as part of a policy choice towards diplomacy and away from confrontation.
In a tweet on Monday, Gargash said Sheikh Tahnoon’s visit to Tehran “comes as a continuation of the UAE’s efforts to strengthen bridges of communication and cooperation in the region which would serve the national interest”.
“The UAE seeks to boost regional stability and prosperity by developing positive relations through dialogue and building on the shared interest and managing divergent views,” he said.