EU wants to improve ties with Gulf states and ease Iran tensions

Luigi Di Maio's appointment as special representative brings sides 'closer than ever'

Mr Di Maio meets with Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs, in July last year. Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Powered by automated translation

The EU is seeking greater communication and co-operation with Gulf countries in a bid to improve ties with the region and support the de-escalation of tensions over Iran, top officials told The National on Thursday.

Former Italy foreign minister Luigi Di Maio was appointed as the EU's special representative for the Gulf last month.

The new position was created following the launch of an EU-led strategic partnership with Gulf countries last year.

Mr Di Maio, 36, told The National that his appointment comes as the bloc aims to bring Gulf Co-operation Council states “closer than ever”.

“Let me say this upfront and very clearly: we need to spend more time together, communicate more and better, listen more to one another and understand each other better,” Mr Di Maio said in Brussels.

“This is the fundamental pillar of my mandate: to bring the EU and the Gulf countries closer together than ever before.”

Mr Di Maio said his aim was to “facilitate solutions” while working closely with EU member states and institutions as well as Gulf countries.

“My role is to engage, on behalf of the EU, with our partners in the Gulf, to listen to them, to understand their interests and their sensitivities,” he said.

The EU said Mr Di Maio will “seek the best ways to contribute to the stability and security of the region by engaging and supporting dialogue and long-term regional solutions with individual Gulf partners and relevant regional organisations”.

Over the past few decades, the EU and Gulf states have established a close trading and investment relationship. Now the European Parliament and the European Council is proposing co-operation on six different levels.

These are: trade and investment, green transition and energy security, regional stability and global security, humanitarian and development issues, reform and human rights, and institutional co-operation.

The issues “include areas ranging from security obviously, but defined in a broader sense (to cover maritime, cyber, counter-terrorism, but also food and environmental security), to trade, energy security and transition, climate action, digital, artificial intelligence, but also people to people,” Mr Di Maio said.

Closer views on Iran nuclear deal

Mr Di Maio said he had the support of the 27 EU member states to seek the “best ways to engage Iran on regional de-escalation and security.”

The comments came as President Sheikh Mohamed held talks with Iran's Minister of Foreign Affairs Hossein Amir Abdollahian in Abu Dhabi on Thursday.

The UAE leader and Mr Amirabdollahian reviewed several international and regional issues during the meeting at Al Shati Palace.

They discussed the importance of “building on positive developments” to benefit the region and boost stability and prosperity, state news agency Wam reported.

The UAE visit comes after Mr Abdollahian met with top officials in Kuwait and Oman. It also follows a meeting between Iran’s nuclear negotiator and one of the EU's most senior diplomats in Qatar.

It is the latest flurry of diplomatic moves by Tehran to seek to reduce its isolation from the region, improve its economy and strengthen its position.

Tehran's top nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani said he discussed several topics with Enrique Mora, the EU’s main envoy for negotiations with Iran, in Qatar on Tuesday and Wednesday, including the lifting of sanctions.

The talks were described as “intense” by Mr Mora.

The two officials spoke about “difficult bilateral, regional and international issues, including the way forward on the JCPOA”, Mr Mora said on Twitter, referring to a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers that the US pulled out of three years later.

Since then efforts to push for an agreement have faltered.

Yes the nuclear talks are frozen but we have put a suggestion on the table to Iran, this is our last take, which is that the next step must be taken from the Iranian side
Luis Miguel Bueno, EU representative for the Middle East and North Africa

“Yes the nuclear talks are frozen but we have put a suggestion on the table to Iran, this is our last take, which is that the next step must be taken from the Iranian side,” Luis Miguel Bueno, the EU’s representative for the Middle East and North Africa, told The National.

Mr Bueno said there are talks happening behind the scenes with all sides in an attempt to find ways to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.

“The EU’s position is clear, we will not allow Iran to become a nuclear state, this is our red line and we are in agreement with our Gulf partners,” he said during a meeting in Brussels.

“I was appointed by all the EU 27 member states and received strong support from them for a broader and more flexible understanding of my mandate: in geographic scope (to also seek best ways to engage Iran on the regional de-escalation and security), but also in terms of thematic scope.”

Updated: June 22, 2023, 11:27 AM