Tuesday, 14 January, 2020

It’s time for Iran, Persian Gulf Arab states to mend their fences

By Vahid Jafarian, Editorial Board Member

Relations between Iran and some members of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), especially Saudi Arabia, have long been uneasy over the past years.

They have been especially tense since the Saudi Arabia, in a unilateral measure and contrary to international norms, cut off its diplomatic relations with Iran in January 2016 following an attack on Saudi embassy in Tehran in response to the execution of a Shiite cleric.

After that, the Kingdom pushed other members of the GCC to support its stances and to reduce the level of their political and economic relations with Iran.

Now, however, it seems that Persian Gulf Arab states have not succumbed to pressures from the Saudi government and taken a logical and rational approach to mend their fences with Iran.

On Friday, Kuwait’s deputy foreign minister Nasser al-Sabeeh underscored the importance of holding joint talks between members of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (PGCC) and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Speaking to reporters, al-Sabeeh said that the final decision on holding diplomatic talks with Iran would be made in the upcoming summit of the council, Irna news agency reported.

Earlier, the Kuwaiti Foreign Affairs Minister Sabah al-Khalid also had underlined the need for joint cooperation with Iran, describing the political talks and consultations with the country as important and strategic.

‘Kuwait and other Arab states of the Persian Gulf region all agree on the important role of Iran in the region and on the fact that having good relations with Iran would benefit all countries and would contribute to regional stability’, said the Kuwaiti minister.

Iran’s ambassador to Kuwait Ali Reza Enayati have recently told the country’s media that Iranian authorities had welcomed written message of Kuwait Emir Sheikh Sabah Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah on holding joint talks with Iran, as it supported the mutual consultations.

In February, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani undertook a tour of Oman and Kuwait, where he had a brief meeting with Sultan Qaboos of Oman and Kuwait’s Emir Shaikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah.

The trip marked the shared will of two Arab states of the Persian Gulf – Oman and Kuwait – to develop ties with Iran as an influential country in the region.

The trip came also amid reports that Trump administration was encouraging Arab states to join Israel in an anti-Iran alliance.

While Kuwait and Oman have taken the most moderate stance toward Iran, Saudi Arabia has also proved increasingly willing to cooperate with Tehran over practical issues in the past several months. During negotiations over the OPEC production cut, for example, the kingdom (albeit begrudgingly) accepted a deal that allowed Iran to cap its production at a higher level than other OPEC members that were subject to a cut.

Saudi Arabia also invited Iran to attend discussions on issuing visas to enable Iranians to make the hajj in 2017, after the breakdown in relations kept the two countries from reaching an agreement on the issue in 2016. (The talks were a success, and Riyadh and Tehran sealed the deal earlier in March.) If this trend continues, even a re-establishment of diplomatic relations may be within the realm of possibility for Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Though Iran and Saudi Arabia are still fierce rivals, the hints of a nascent reconciliation demonstrate that they are willing to put their differences aside under the right circumstances, on specific issues.

The GCC has determined that improving bilateral relations with Iran could help it achieve its domestic imperatives. For Tehran, meanwhile, reducing hostilities with the Gulf bloc could help preserve the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action agreement with the United States.

The Stratfor article contributed to this report

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