Emir’s visit a ‘new page’ in Kuwait-Iran relations

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has invited Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah for talks at the end of the month aimed at signing several agreements.
Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah, the emir of Kuwait, will be visiting Iran for talks on May 31. Hamid Qasmi / EPA
Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah, the emir of Kuwait, will be visiting Iran for talks on May 31. Hamid Qasmi / EPA

Kuwait’s ruling emir will visit Iran at the end of the month to help turn a “new page” in bilateral ties, Iran’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday. The announcement is the latest sign that Tehran is seeking to improve relations with its Arab neighbours.

Emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah will visit Iran on May 31-June 1 at the invitation of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a foreign ministry spokeswoman said. It will be the first time Sheikh Sabah visits Iran since becoming Kuwait’s emir in 2006, the state-run Iranian Students News Agency said.

Kuwait, home to a sizeable Shiite Muslim minority, is seen by some as a potential bridge between Shiite power Iran and more wary and sometimes hostile Sunni Muslim Gulf countries, such as Saudi Arabia.

The visit “will usher in a new page of Kuwait-Iran relations,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham told a televised news conference in Tehran.

Ms Afkham said “several agreements were expected to be signed”, without giving details.

The office of Kuwait’s emir has not confirmed the trip.

Sheikh Sabah, a former foreign minister, is often described by analysts as one of the region’s most important diplomats, often acting as a mediator and peacemaker.

He has maintained good ties with Iran, directly across the Gulf waterway, as well as with Kuwait’s large neighbours Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

Iran’s Mr Rouhani, a relative moderate, said after his election win last June he wanted to reach out to Gulf Arab governments as part of efforts to end his country’s international isolation.

The planned meeting follows Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s tour of Kuwait, the UAE, Oman and Qatar in December after Tehran signed an interim nuclear deal with world powers.

But it ended without Mr Zarif travelling to Iran’s main rival, Saudi Arabia.

Last week, Riyadh’s Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal said he had invited his Iranian counterpart to visit the kingdom, following mediation reportedly led by Oman.

Ms Afkham said an Iranian visit to Saudi Arabia was on the “agenda” but did not specify an exact date or participation.

“We have received the verbal invitation and measures are being taken to organise this trip,” she said.

“Iran and Saudi Arabia are two important countries in the region and their interaction is influential in the regional scope,” she added.

Tehran welcomed the plan and stressed the need to boost relations after years of strained ties.

Kuwait welcomed the agreement, saying it hoped it would help to preserve stability and security in the region.

Saudi Arabia and Iran are on the opposite ends of some of the major crises in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, backs rebels seeking to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, a longtime ally of Iran. Iran’s nuclear programme, the subject of negotiations with world powers, has also fanned Gulf states’ concerns that it may be seeking to dominate the oil-rich region.

“We hope talks and cooperation will help the region’s nations reach similar views and resolve regional issues,” Ms Afkham said.

Iran and Saudi Arabia have also clashed over unrest in Bahrain and Yemen.

* Reuters, Bloomberg, and Agence France-Presse

Published: May 20, 2014 04:00 AM

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