Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif visited three countries in the Arabian Peninsula—Kuwait, Oman and Qatar—on Sunday and Monday, on his first visit to the Gulf states since Iranian President Hassan Rouhani took office in early August.
This follows a rare visit to Iran by United Arab Emirates foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed last week, in which he met with Zarif and other Iranian officials.
Tehran is also going to host Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki on his first trip to Iran since Rouhani’s victory in the June 14 presidential election.
Iran’s new government claims it wants to build closer ties with nearby Arab countries. The Islamic Republic has had a tense relationship with Gulf Arab states, particularly Saudi Arabia, since the 1979 revolution that led to the downfall of the Pahlavi monarchy.
Tensions have worsened in recent years because of Tehran’s support for the Syrian government, as well as fears over the extent of Tehran’s regional ambitions and its nuclear program.
During his visit to Kuwait on Sunday, Zarif assured Gulf Arab states his country’s nuclear deal with the West is in their interest and also announced plans to visit Saudi Arabia.
“The solution to this issue serves the interests of all countries in the region. It is not at the expense of any state in the region,” Zarif said at a joint news conference, after meeting his Kuwaiti counterpart, Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Sabah.
“Be assured that the nuclear deal is in favor of the stability and security of the region,” Zarif said.
He also confirmed plans to visit Saudi Arabia although no date has yet been set.
“We look at Saudi Arabia as an important and influential country in the region,” he said, adding: “Iranian-Saudi relations are developing and can be strengthened by mutual cooperation and we commend the positive steps we have seen from the Saudis and welcome them.”
During his regional tour, Zarif also travelled to Oman where he delivered a message from President Hassan Rouhani on relations between the two countries and issues of common interest.
Oman maintains good relations with Tehran, and the country’s ruler, Sultan Qaboos, was Rouhani’s first guest following his inauguration on August 3.
Sultan Qaboos has also acted as an intermediary between Western countries and Iran in recent years.
On the third leg of his tour of the Gulf littoral states, Zarif visited Doha on Monday, where he held talks with his Qatari counterpart Khalid Bin Mohammad Al-Attiyah and other senior officials.
Zarif’s tour follows his publication of a column in Asharq Al-Awsat on November 21, in which the Iranian foreign minister stressed his country’s desire to open a new chapter in relations with its Arab neighbors.
“There is far more that joins us than separates us. We need to have a sober appreciation of the fact that we have common interests and face common threats, and that we need to deal with common challenges and can make use of common opportunities. In short, we have a common destiny,” he wrote.