Top Iranian official visits UAE following Saudi deal

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A senior Iranian official visited the United Arab Emirates on Thursday, just days after Tehran agreed to restore diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia in a China-brokered deal that raised hopes for a broader rapprochement awakened in the Middle East.

Ali Shamkhani, the head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, said his visit was a “significant start for the two countries to enter a new phase in political, economic and security relations,” Iran’s state-run news agency IRNA reported. He was said to be accompanied by the head of the Central Bank of Iran and other senior officials.

He met with UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and other senior officials to discuss “ways to improve cooperation between the two countries,” the UAE’s official news agency WAM reported.

Sunni Arab rulers in the Persian Gulf have viewed Iran with suspicion since the 1979 Islamic Revolution toppled a US-allied monarch in Tehran. Relations have deteriorated since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 as Shiite-majority Iran has expanded its influence in the region supported powerful armed proxies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and the Palestinian Territories.

In the China-brokered agreementBuilding on talks of recent years in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Iran agreed to restore diplomatic ties severed in 2016 when Saudi Arabia executed a prominent Shia cleric and Iranian protesters stormed its embassy in Tehran.

The deal raised hopes for a lasting peace in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia has been at war with the Iran-allied Houthi militia since 2015. This conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and brought the poorest country in the Arab world to the brink of famine.

The UAE, a close Saudi ally that also intervened in Yemen, brought back its ambassador to Iran last August for the first time since 2016, as did the Arabian Gulf nation of Kuwait. A major international business hub in the UAE, Dubai is home to a large Iranian community.

But suspicions still run deep, especially after a series of attacks on oil tankers off the UAE coast and Saudi oil facilities in 2019, which were widely blamed on Iran. Last year, a drone attack The attack, launched by the Iran-backed Houthis, hit Abu Dhabi and tarnished the UAE’s reputation as a safe haven in the volatile Middle East.

The UAE became the first of four Arab nations to normalize ties with Israel in the so-called Abraham Accords in 2020. The two countries were drawn together in large part because of their shared suspicions about Iran. Israel considers Iran its greatest threat, and the two countries have been engaged in a shadow war for several years.

The Saudi-Iran deal raised concerns in Israelwhich has long hoped for an alliance with the Arab Gulf States against Tehran.

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