UAE seeks to rebuild Iran ties, plans to return ambassador to Tehran
The Gulf state’s goal to become a global financial leader have placed both defense and diplomacy on the table
While the United Arab Emirates shares regional concerns about the Iranian nuclear program, the Arab Gulf state is seeking simultaneously to rebuild relations with the Islamic regime, a UAE senior advisor said Friday.
Senior diplomatic advisor Anwar Gargash revealed that the UAE hopes to send an ambassador to Tehran and is not interested in a confrontation with the regime.
“Our conversation is ongoing,” Gargash told the media. “We are in the process of sending an ambassador to Tehran. All these areas of rebuilding bridges are ongoing.”
While UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan prepares for a visit to Paris, Gargash stressed that “we are open to cooperation, but not cooperation targeting any other country in the region, and I specifically mention Iran.”
“The UAE is not going to be a party to any group of countries that sees confrontation as a direction, but we do have serious issues with Iran with its regional politics,” Gargash said.
The UAE has long-established close relations with the United States and strengthening ties with Iran’s regional rival, Israel. In addition, the Gulf state is an integral partner in the Saudi-led Sunni Arab bloc, formed to counter Iran’s growing malicious influence in the Middle East.
So, why is the UAE simultaneously trying to rebuild relations with Iran? The main motivators behind the UAE’s diplomatic goals are economy and geography.
The UAE is eager to have good ties with all the main political players, in an effort to avoid the regional tensions that might undermine the Arab state’s ambition to establish itself as a global financial powerhouse.
While exports to Iran in 2020 constituted only 2% of the $216 billion total in Emirati exports, Iran’s importance is tied to being a regional military power, far closer geographically to the UAE than Israel.
From an Emirati perspective, mending diplomatic ties with their Iranian neighbors is crucial for avoiding a confrontation that could undermine the UAE’s financial ascent.
Despite political tensions, the UAE and Iran have maintained a certain level of diplomatic relations.
In May, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian visited the UAE to pay his respects following the death of the late UAE President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the sitting president’s half-brother. Earlier, in November 2021, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani visited the UAE to open a new chapter of bilateral relations.
The UAE is hedging its bets simultaneously by investing time and resources in boosting its military capabilities to fend off potential hostile attacks.
The Emirati diplomatic engagement with Tehran began in 2019 amid a growing number of attacks on tankers and energy facilities that would be attributed to Iran and its proxies in the Persian Gulf region. While the attacks primarily targeted Saudi Arabia, the UAE was not spared.
In January 2022, a drone attack claimed by the Iranian-backed Yemenite Houthi militia killed three people in the Emirati capital, Abu Dhabi. While the Emiratis are not interested in launching an offensive, they have recognized the country’s need for defense from future drone and missile attacks.
“We have an open eye. We [have been] very clear: If something is defending the UAE and its civilians, of course, we are open to these ideas; but not to the idea of creating any axes against this or that country,” Gargash said.
While Israel has raised the idea of establishing a regional NATO-style defense alliance against Iran, the response of the UAE and other Arab states has been lukewarm at best.