Dec 8, 2021 - World

UAE begins to reconcile with Iran

Iran’s president (right) meets with the UAE’s national security adviser. Photo: Iranian Presidency handout via Getty

A rare visit to Iran by UAE national security adviser Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan on Monday signaled a shift in relations between the two Gulf adversaries as the Emiratis seek to de-escalate tensions with Tehran.

Why it matters: The visit was part of a broader diplomatic push by the UAE, which has reached out to regional rivals like Turkey, Syria and Qatar in recent months in an attempt to stabilize relations.

Driving the news: The Emirati national security adviser met with his Iranian counterpart, Ali Shamkhani, and with President Ebrahim Raisi.

  • Both sides issued public statements about their willingness to improve ties, but very little about the contents of the meetings.
  • Sheikh Tahnoun’s visit to Tehran came several weeks after a phone call between the Emirati foreign minister and his Iranian counterpart.

Zoom out: It also followed a trip to Ankara by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, the UAE's de facto ruler, to meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

  • Several weeks prior, Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed visited Damascus and met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The big picture: An Emirati source points to three major reasons for the attempted regional reset.

  • The UAE's involvement in the conflicts in Yemen and Libya caused the country significant financial, diplomatic and reputational damages.
  • The economy was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Uncertainty about the U.S. role in the region has given the UAE a sense that no one is coming to the rescue. That perception became acute after the Trump administration declined to respond to attacks in 2019 by Iran and its proxies on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia and ships near Emirati ports, and it persists to this day.

What’s next: The Emirati source said there's no expectation of a full reconciliation with Iran, Turkey or Qatar, but that the UAE would continue its new policy of talking to everybody in the region to make relations more functional and less adversarial.

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