Iranian president Hassan Rouhani sent a letter on Monday to Kuwait’s ruler, Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, state media reported, in a new chapter of defusing the tension between Iran and Gulf countries.
Tension has mounted between the Gulf and Iran since Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties with Tehran early last year after two Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran were attacked by protesters following Riyadh’s execution of a prominent Shia cleric.
Saudi Arabia and Bahrain cut diplomatic relations with Iran after the incident, while Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates recalled their envoys in a show of solidarity with Riyadh, but Oman only expressed regret over the attack, highlighting its better ties.
However, both Iran and Gulf states started to make attempts later to defuse the tension between them.
In January, Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled al-Sabah paid a rare visit to Tehran.
He delivered a message from the emir to Rouhani, describing a “basis of dialogue” between Gulf Arab states and Iran.
Rouhani then responded with visiting Oman and Kuwait in February on his first visit to the Gulf states since taking power in 2013.
In Muscat, he met with Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said and discussed the promotion of ties.
During a meeting with Kuwait’s emir in Kuwait City, Rouhani stressed that the two countries have close political ties and that “their economic relations must follow suit”.
He said Kuwait was among at least 10 countries to have offered to mediate in Iran’s escalating feud with Saudi Arabia.
Iran’s state news agency IRNA said on Monday that Rouhani replied to the previous Kuwaiti message in the letter delivered by Iran’s ambassador on Monday.
Kuwait state news agency Kuna said al-Sabah received Alireza Enayati in his palace and “during the meeting a letter was delivered addressed to His Highness … from Rouhani”.
Neither news agency gave details of the letter’s contents.
Zarif in Qatar
Iranian Foreign Minister held talks earlier in March with Qatar’s Emir in Doha about improving bilateral relations, and regional development, in a new attempt to ease the tension between the Gulf countries and Iran.
The state-run Qatar News Agency reported that Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani met Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at his Al-Bahr Palace in the capital, Doha, Wednesday.
Zarif, who is in Doha for a one-day visit, and Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani discussed the promotion of trade and economic ties. They also exchanged views on regional conflicts and common concerns.
Zarif also met his Qatari counterpart Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani.
During the meeting, Zarif underlined “the need for further promotion of Tehran-Doha ties, especially in the sectors of economy, banking and joint investment.”
The Qatari official, for his part, described his country’s relations with Iran as amicable.
“We have always believed that Iran and the Gulf Arab countries can have good ties,” al-Thani said, adding that his country favors such a policy.
The past year witnessed Iran’s victory over Saudi Arabia in many dispute points in the region.
In Yemen, Iran backed the Houthi militias who fought against the Saudi-backed government and overthrown it. The Houthis were able to control large areas of Yemen and Saudi launched a campaign against them but couldn’t neutralize their power. The Houthis then made direct attacks against the Saudi land.
“Yemen will be Saudi Arabia’s Vietnam,” says a contemptuous Iranian official. “It is bleeding the Saudis’ military and diplomatic prestige.” If Saudi Arabia agrees to leave the rest of the region, he says, Iran will let it keep Bahrain, the little island state linked by a causeway to Saudi’s eastern coast.
Iran also firmed its grip on Lebanon, when Saad Hariri, who heads Lebanon’s Sunni bloc and is backed by Saudi Arabia, has accepted the post of prime minister under Hezbollah’s choice for president.
The Hariri-led alliance that struggled with Hezbollah for more than a decade, only to see the heavily armed Shi’ite group go from strength to strength in Lebanon and the wider region.
Iran also supported Assad regime by money and fighters to defend his role against the Saudi-backed Sunni rebels, in return for freeing Iran’s hand in Syria to achieve its long-awaited dream. Iran started a demographic change in the Sunni-populated areas in Syria and sought to change the face of the Syrian cities by forcing the Shiite festivals in the heart of Damascus, adding Syria to the list of its controlled areas and making it gradually the 32nd Iranian province.
Egypt’s President, Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi has left the Saudi campaign too. The Saudis supported his military coup in Egypt and funded with billions of dollar during the past years, but he left them and made overtures to Syria, Russia, and even Iran as he sensed Saudi’s weakness.
The next months will reveal if both Iranian and Gulf’s efforts can play a role in easing the tension and starting a new era of cooperation, or each part will stick to its interests and insist on them, leading to foil all efforts in the past months.