x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Abdullah in Iran to promote better lines of dialogue

Foreign Minister's visit comes amid growing wariness between the two countries.

Abu Dhabi // Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, is set to visit Iran today for talks on boosting bilateral relations with the Islamic Republic, a government source said. The trip is a follow-up to a 2007 agreement between Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, the President of the UAE, and his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, aimed at establishing a joint committee to deal with several political and economic issues affecting relations. The visit, Sheikh Abdullah's third since becoming Minister of Foreign Affairs, comes amid growing wariness between the two countries. The UAE has expressed heightened concern over Iran's construction activities on the disputed islands of Greater and Lesser Tunbs and Abu Musa, occupied by Iran since 1971. The UAE also supports a UN-led effort to convince Iran to suspend its controversial uranium enrichment programme. The UAE is home to a large community of Iranian expatriates and is a major trading partner with the country. The visit may be capped by the signing of an agreement setting up a joint committee which is expected to have a broad mandate to address political, economic and other affairs. The establishment of the joint committee would be a significant political step, analysts say. Riad Kahwaji, chief executive of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, a Dubai-based defence research centre, said the creation of a joint committee "signifies that both countries want to maintain an open dialogue and address all outstanding issues". Of the six GCC states, only Oman has so far established such a committee with Iran. Mr Ahmadinejad visited the UAE in May last year, the first visit by a serving Iranian head of state since the UAE was founded in 1971. Relations between Iran and its Arab neighbours have remained frosty since the 1979 revolution. The occupation of the islands, located strategically in the Gulf waterway, has become increasingly controversial in recent months as the UAE has sought to bring the issue to international notice. In July, Dr Mohammed Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, notably made a speech at the non-aligned movement summit in Tehran urging Iran to be more constructive in seeking a resolution by accepting either bilateral negotiations or arbitration by the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Iran has rejected the call, claiming that "foreign powers" have manipulated what Iranian officials insist is a "misunderstanding". The Organisation of Islamic Countries has offered to mediate between the two, while the GCC and the Arab League have endorsed the UAE's position. ehokayem@thenational.ae