UAE ambassador to Iran to return, 6 years after relations severed

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It has been more than six years since the Gulf Arab state downgraded ties with Iran after Saudi diplomatic missions attacked by protesters.

The United Arab Emirates says its ambassador to Iran, Saif Mohammed Al Zaabi, would return to Tehran “in coming days”, more than six years after the Gulf Arab state downgraded ties with Tehran.

The announcement on Sunday is in line with UAE’s efforts to strengthen relations with Iran “to achieve the common interests of the two countries and the wider region”, the foreign ministry said in a statement.

The UAE scaled back its ties with Tehran in 2016 after Iranian protesters stormed Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic missions in Iran following Riyadh’s execution of prominent Shia scholar Nimr al-Nimr.

Last week, the Emirati and Iranian foreign ministers had a telephone conversation and they discussed boosting ties, UAE state media reported, where they discussed sending an ambassador back to Tehran.

Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian discussed ways of “boosting bilateral relations and areas of cooperation for the benefit of both countries”, UAE’s state news agency WAM reported then.

After years of animosity on different sides of geopolitical rivalries, the UAE started re-engaging with Iran in 2019 following attacks in Gulf waters and on Saudi energy sites.

Last year, Saudi Arabia also moved to improve ties with Iran at a time when Gulf Arab states are closely eyeing efforts to revive Tehran’s 2015 nuclear pact with world powers, which they deem flawed for not addressing its missile programme.

Though Riyadh and Abu Dhabi want an end to Tehran’s moves in the region, they also want to contain the tensions as they focus on economic priorities.

The UAE has business and trade ties with Iran stretching back more than a century, with the emirate of Dubai long being one of Iran’s main links to the outside world.

Fellow Gulf state Kuwait earlier this month appointed its first ambassador to Iran since 2016.

The warming of diplomatic ties comes after the UAE normalised ties with Israel in September 2020. Three other Arab countries – Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco – also forged diplomatic relations with Israel under the so-called Abraham Accords brokered by the United States.

Even as the UAE normalised relations with Tehran’s regional foe, Emirati officials have escalated efforts to boost trade relations with Iran and reduce the threat from its regional proxies.

Earlier this year, drone and missile strikes by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen hit Abu Dhabi, hurting the UAE’s reputation as a safe haven in a volatile region.

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