Iran's President Rouhani visits Kuwait to soothe Gulf tensions

Iran's President Rouhani visits Kuwait to soothe Gulf tensions
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visited Kuwait on Wednesday, as part of a lightning two-nation tour aimed at mending ties with Gulf neighbours strained by the conflicts in Syria and Yemen.
3 min read
15 February, 2017
Hassan Rouhani met with the Kuwaiti Emir in the capital [AFP]

Iran's president visited Kuwait and Oman as part of a lightning two-nation tour, aimed at mending ties with Gulf neighbours strained by the conflicts in Syria and Yemen.

Hassan Rouhani held talks with Kuwait's Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah on Wednesday, who last month launched a dialogue with the Islamic Republic to normalise Iran-Gulf relations, as requested by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

The two leaders held talks on "latest regional and international developments", according to an official statement cited by the KUNA news agency, without noting details.

Rouhani had previously expressed support for Kuwait's efforts to "resolve misunderstandings and boost relations" with Gulf countries, ahead of his visit to Oman and Kuwait.

"In this trip, there will be discussions about the region, the situation in Iraq, Syria and in particular in Yemen," Iran's official news agency IRNA quoted him as saying.

Rouhani's tour excludes regional kingpin Saudi Arabia - the Islamic Republic's key rival.

Meanwhile, Tehran's ties with other Gulf states have been strained over its support for the Syrian regime of Bashar Al-Assad and alleged backing of Yemen's Houthi rebels.

Rouhani was welcomed by Sultan Qaboos bin Said in Muscat, where the two discussed bilateral relations and the situation in the region, Oman's official ONA news agency reported.

"Tehran has always been in favour of resolving problems and disputes through dialogue," Rouhani said, according to Iranian media.

He also appealed for a ceasefire, increased humanitarian aid and political dialogue to resolve the conflict in Yemen.

"Today, the Yemenis are in a particularly disastrous situation and we all have to act as Muslim countries to help this people," he said.

Iran traditionally maintains good relations with Oman, with which it shares control of the key Strait of Hormuz shipping lane.

"There are now good conditions for developing and consolidating relations between Iran and Oman," Rouhani said, calling for stronger economic ties.

Gulf dialogue hopes

Last month, Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled al-Sabah visited Tehran, calling for a "normalisation of ties and opening dialogue".

His deputy, Khaled al-Jarallah, said in remarks published on Wednesday that he hopes Rouhani's visit would lead to a dialogue between the Gulf states and Iran.

The elements needed for the dialogue, which were included in the emir's letter, call for non-interference in the internal affairs of the Gulf states - which Iran is repeatedly accused of - respecting their sovereignty and establishing good neighbouring relations, Jarallah said in the comments published in Kuwait's al-Qabas newspaper.

In December, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit held in Manama asked Kuwait to initiate contacts with Tehran to start a dialogue to improve ties.

Kuwait, where 30 percent of native citizens are Shias, has maintained normal relations with Tehran despite taking part in the Saudi-led military campaign on Yemen's Houthi rebels.

Iran has had no diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia since January 2016, when demonstrators stormed the kingdom's missions in Tehran and Mashhad in protest at the execution of a prominent Saudi Shia cleric.

Ties were already strained between the region's leading Shia and Sunni powers, which have taken opposing sides in the conflicts in Syria and Yemen.

Oman, which has a significant Shia minority, is the only one of the six Gulf Arab states not taking part in the Saudi-led military intervention against the Houthis in Yemen.