Iran and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), two countries that have long operated on opposite sides of the region’s “cold war,” have begun to thaw their relations, according to the Iranian deputy foreign minister after his Wednesday visit to the UAE.
Ali Bagheri Kani, the Iranian diplomat who also oversees Iran’s nuclear negotiations with the West, met with Emirati Minister for State and Foreign Affairs Khalifa Shaheen and his predecessor in that office, Anwar Gargesh. The Emirati state-run WAM outlet characterized the meeting as amicable, saying that the Emirati and Iranian leaders “emphasized the importance of strengthening relations on the basis of good neighborliness and mutual respect.”
After the meeting had concluded, the Iranian diplomat took to Twitter to praise it, claiming that the two sides had “agreed to open a new chapter” in their often-fraught relationship.
The two countries have opposed each other in various regional conflicts, backing opposite sides in the Syrian and Yemeni civil wars. Iran has also been highly critical of the Abraham Accords, the U.S.-mediated peace deal that led to the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel, the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco.
In spite of their differences, Iran and the UAE have maintained diplomatic relations with one another, even after Iran and Saudi Arabia severed relations in January 2016. Under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Zayed, Abu Dhabi has advocated a multilateral “collective diplomacy” between Middle Eastern and Gulf states intended to de-escalate ongoing tensions.
Kani’s trip to the UAE was made in preparation for Iran’s re-entry into nuclear negotiations with the United States and the other members of the P5+1 on November 29. The negotiations are intended to restore the precedent created by the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which lifted most sanctions on Iran in exchange for sharp restrictions on its nuclear program.
In 2018, the UAE supported then-President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the JCPOA, reasoning that the agreement allowed Iran to continue to develop ballistic missiles and fund its regional proxy groups, including the Houthis in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Under President Joe Biden, the United States has pushed all parties to return to the deal, and Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley has visited various Middle Eastern countries, including the UAE, to assure regional partners that the Biden administration remains committed to regional security as negotiations loom.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.