UAE leader welcomes Iranian foreign minister in latest softening of Persian Gulf tensions

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In this photo released by UAE Presidential Court, UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, greets Hossein Amir Abdollahian, Iran's Minister of Foreign Affairs at Shati Palace in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Thursday, June 22, 2023. (Ryan Carter/UAE Presidential Court via AP)

DUBAI – The president of the United Arab Emirates met with Iran's visiting foreign minister on Thursday in the latest sign of improving relations between Arab Gulf countries and the Islamic Republic.

The UAE, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries have long harbored suspicions about Iran because of its nuclear program and support for militant groups across the region, and have cultivated close defense ties with the U.S. But in recent months they have charted a more independent path, reaching out to U.S. adversaries as Washington increasingly focuses on Russia and China.

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Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian “discussed the importance of building on positive developments to benefit the people of the region and enhance regional stability and prosperity,” the UAE's state-run WAM news agency reported.

Iranian state TV said the two met for 90 minutes and discussed further cooperation in different fields. It said the Iranian foreign minister invited Sheikh Mohammed to visit Iran and that the UAE president invited Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi to visit the Emirates.

The meeting follows similar recent outreach by Saudi Arabia, which agreed to normalize relations with Iran for the first time in seven years in a deal brokered by China in March. The two countries have since reopened embassies and held high-level official visits.

The UAE, home to the futuristic cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, is a close U.S. military ally that hosts some 2,000 American troops at the Al-Dhafra Air Base. U.S. forces based there and in other Arab Gulf countries have long been seen as a deterrent to Iran.

The UAE was also the driving force behind the so-called Abraham Accords, in which it and three other Arab countries forged ties with Israel. Israel views Iran as its greatest threat and hopes to further isolate it by pursuing closer ties with Arab states.

Israel and the U.S. are keen to reach a normalization agreement with Saudi Arabia. Saudi officials say any such agreement would have to be linked to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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