London, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al Sabah, began a two-day official visit to Tehran on Sunday, following an invitation from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Prior to his arrival, Iranian news agencies said the Emir would hold meetings with both President Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Kuwaiti state news agency KUNA announced that a number of cooperation agreements were signed by Iranian and Kuwaiti ministers in the presence of the Emir, including “security and air service cooperation deals,” and agreements on customs, sports, tourism and environmental protection.
Observers say one of the most important aims of the Kuwaiti leader’s visit is to pave the way for improvements in the fraught relationship between Iran and its Arab neighbors, especially Saudi Arabia.
The visit came the same day that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said he would be unable to take up a Saudi offer to visit Riyadh for a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, because he had to attend international talks over Iran’s controversial nuclear program.
Relations between Iran and the Gulf states have frequently been through periods of severe strain since the 1979 revolution that led to the birth of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
In recent years, Iran’s controversial nuclear program and its support for the government of Bashar Al-Assad in Syria have led to growing tensions with Saudi Arabia in particular.
This week’s visit is the first by a sitting ruler of Kuwait to Iran since 1979.
Prior to the Emir’s visit, Zarif met with his Kuwaiti counterpart Sheikh Sabah Al-Khalid Al Sabah on the fringes of the Non-Aligned Movement ministerial meeting in the Algerian capital on Friday.
Zarif said after the meeting that the visit represented a turning point and the opening of a new page in the relations between the two countries.
Following the meeting in Algiers, the Kuwaiti foreign minister highlighted Kuwait’s efforts to develop friendly relations with all the region’s states. He also praised the performance and policies implemented by Rouhani.
Member of the Strategic Studies and Research Center in Iran, Dr. Hassan Ahmadi, told Asharq Al-Awsat on Sunday: “We notice that Arab countries, especially the Gulf states, are trying to build friendly relations with Iran, which is in conjunction with Hassan Rouhani’s arrival in office and the change in the government’s attitude to foreign affairs, especially Arab affairs.”
Ahmadi, an Iranian–Arab affairs expert, added: “Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al Sabah can play an active role in strengthening friendly relations between Iran and all Arab states, and send a message of Iranian friendship to . . . Gulf states. Kuwait can also lift the level of relations between Tehran and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, especially Saudi Arabia, which is the president of the current session of the GCC.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Mohammad Irani, the former Iranian ambassador to Lebanon and Jordan and a specialist in Arab affairs at Iran’s influential Expediency Council, also told Asharq Al-Awsat that the visit was part of the Rouhani administration’s attempts to improve the relationship between Iran and its neighbors.
“Rouhani’s government is making every effort to improve relations between Iran and the Arab countries, which have been tense during the last presidential term,” he said.
Commentators in the Iranian press have also portrayed the Emir’s visit as an opportunity to improve ties with Iran’s Arab neighbors.
The daily newspaper Iran, which is owned by the Iranian government, welcomed the visit in its Sunday edition.
An editorial in the paper said: “The visit will open a new page to help strengthen mutual cooperation and remove tensions which have prevailed over Iranian–Arab relations during the last few years.”