UAE, Iran trying to bridge the gulf of differences
Tehran, Iran and United Arab Emirates as two neighboring countries that share sea border in the Persian Gulf have been trade partners since decades ago.
Not long ago, the UAE was the biggest nonoil commercial partner of Iran, and a main origin of imports. The significant role of Iran in UAE's economy also included the huge foreign investment of Tehran. The UAE was the biggest destination of Iran's export among the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council member countries.
The two nations also share centuries of art and cultural backgrounds, and the presence of Iran in the country is obvious in UAE demography, as many Emirati people, including the State Minister for Advanced Sciences Sara alAmiri, have Iranian roots. The good relations were so strong despite the disputes over the three islands of Abu Musa, Great and Lesser Tunbs in the Persian Gulf.
But in recent years, the relations of the two were tense, partly due to the US policies. Sanctions imposed by Washington in different eras put a crushing pressure on the economic ties of Tehran and Abu Dhabi. Some Emirati officials have overtly or covertly backed the harsh US policies against Iran.
The tension in the ties was fueled by the Yemen crisis when Tehran and Abu Dhabi faced each other in the Saudiled military intervention against popular forces in Yemen. The UAE also backed Washington when it withdrew from Iran's Deal and reimposed sanctions on Tehran.
The escalation, however, seems to be undergoing an ebb. UAE's inclination to breaking the ice of relations with Iran was evident when it did not echoe the US views claiming Iran was behind the alleged incidents against the Emirati tanker in the Persian Gulf in May. The Financial Times highlighted the reaction as a sign of change in UAE approach toward Tehran.
Unlike the US and the UK, Abu Dhabi has not blamed Iran for sabotage attacks on six tankers off the UAE's coast in May and June. It has been tempered in its language towards the republic as officials have talked of the need for a deescalation, it reported.
The speculations on the possible rapprochement between the two got stronger as a group of Emirati border guard officials visited Tehran for a series of talks with Iranian counterparts. Western media described the meetings as 'secret', but local media in Iran officially reported that the meetings resulted in a memorandum of understanding on border security. The US daily Wall Street Journal described the visit as 'rare' coming amid 'a brewing crisis between Iran and the West in the Persian Gulf region'.
Some observers have seen the shift of policy on the UAE's part as an attempt to hedge its foreign policy bets in the region. The UAE continues to be one of the savviest foreign policy actors in the Middle East, Emma Ashford, a member of the Cato Institute in Washington said. Wall Street Journal reported that the visit was in line with the UAE's effort to retain its reputation as a safe business hub in the turbulent Middle East.
The steps by the UAE are tacitly welcomed by Iranian officials. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said at his press conference last Monday that Iran has long been inviting countries in the region to negotiation table as it has proposed the nonaggression pact to the Persian Gulf countries in 1985.
He also added that Door of diplomacy is open, and negotiations and interaction are in the interest of Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and the entire region.
There have also been some other tokens that strengthens the possibility of a warmup of relations between the two neighbor countries. Farshid Farzanegan, head of IranUAE chamber of commerce, told the Tehranbased daily, Iran, that Emirati authorities have tempered their behavior to Iranian business people, who comprise a major part of expatriates in Dubai but were facing financial challenges, adding that the developments witness to the Emirates' political will for restoring relations with Tehran.
Observers believe that the UAE's efforts for avoiding escalation in region and the scaling back of its military presence in Yemen were all aimed at warming up ties with 'the provider of security in the Persian Gulf', as the Iranian foreign minister has described the country. Such speculations are getting boosted, particularly at a time that the US is trying to mobilize states to form a maritime alliance in a bid to counterbalance Iran's influence in the region and the Persian Gulf.
Source: Islamic Republic News Agency IRNA