ANKARA (AA) – Iran and the United Arab Emirates are developing closer bilateral ties while the UAE is also simultaneously cozying up with Israel. Experts consider these to be unprecedented and very significant developments.
What makes it still more intriguing is that hostilities between the Emiratis and Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have taken an ugly, violent turn recently.
Iranian officials had made hard-hitting statements against the UAE after Abu Dhabi declared its “full normalization” with Israel in August 2020. Iran’s then-President Hassan Rouhani termed it a “betrayal of the Palestinian cause”, warning the Emiratis against “bringing Israel to the region”. Then-Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, decried it as a “stab on the back.”
“On the face of it, recent geopolitical developments do appear somewhat baffling, but they only point to political pragmatism,” said Massoud Akbarpour, a Tehran-based strategic affairs analyst.
The new Iranian government, however, has realized the importance of taking along neighbors and trade partners, despite differences with them.
The UAE is part of a Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthis in war-ravaged Yemen. It backed former US President Donald Trump’s decision to launch a “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran in 2018.
Almost 18 months later, the two estranged neighbors are back on the table, discussing diplomacy and trade.
While subtle warnings about “Israeli presence” in the region continue to be made by top officials in the new Iranian government, there is a new-found political will in Tehran to diplomatically engage with the UAE.
In recent months, dialogue between Iran and the UAE has continued at multiple levels. The foreign ministers have held phone conversations many times.
The UAE continues to be Iran’s top trading partner in imports and third-largest partner in exports, pointing to a massive trade potential between them.
Earlier this month, Iran’s Trade Minister Reza Fatemi Amin led a high-level delegation to Abu Dhabi, where the two sides reached a series of trade agreements.
Amin said Iran had managed to attract foreign investments worth $300 million from the UAE in recent months, which would materialize in coming months.
Both sides have set the target of $30 billion annual trade by 2025, from $15 billion at present, with focus on gold, diamonds, metals and metallic raw materials.
With Iran and the remaining parties to the 2015 nuclear accord on the verge of clinching a deal in Vienna, experts say the UAE can play a key role in facilitating Iran’s trade and helping its economy rebound.
All these developments must be seen in the context of Iran’s desire to revitalize its economy without dependence on the West.