Senior UAE adviser makes rare trip to Iran for nuclear talks


Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani, right, chats with UAE Senior National Security Advisor Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan during their meeting in Tehran, Iran on Monday December 6, 2021 (Vahid Salemi / AP)

TEHRAN, Iran – The UAE national security adviser met with the radical Iranian president in Tehran on Monday, a major visit for the Arab Gulf Federation which has long viewed the Islamic Republic as its main regional threat.

Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s visit comes as the Emirates and Saudi Arabia both negotiate with Iran as part of efforts in Vienna to save Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers.

The United Arab Emirates, home to Abu Dhabi and Dubai, struck a diplomatic recognition agreement with Israel last year, increasing tensions with Tehran. The UAE has long served as a lifeline to the outside world for Iran amid international sanctions.

Sheikh Tahnoon, dressed in a navy thobe, a black suit jacket and his iconic aviator sunglasses, first met Ali Shamkhani, the head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. The pair smiled and shook hands in front of reporters ahead of their meeting, a large map of Iran and the Persian Gulf looming behind them, with just a shard of the Emirates visible on it.

Iranian state television quoted Shamkhani as saying that “warm and friendly” relations between countries remain a priority and that they should not be affected by other nations – possibly a reference to the United States and Israel.

Sheikh Tahnoon then met with President Ebrahim Raisi, an outright protege of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. A presidential statement quoted Raisi as welcoming “improved ties with the Emirates”, including on economic issues.

“There should be no barrier between the two Muslim nations of Iran and the Emirates,” Raisi said. “He shouldn’t be affected by dictation from strangers.”

The Iranian presidency cited Sheikh Tahnoon as inviting Raisi on a state visit to the United Arab Emirates. A report by UAE state news agency WAM did not mention the invitation, but said the two “discussed prospects for further strengthening bilateral relations and explored a range of issues of mutual concern. “.

Monday marked a series of political visits to the region in the context of the Vienna talks in Europe. Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad also visited Tehran and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was due to visit Oman on a regional tour. Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was due to visit Qatar, which Prince Mohammed also planned to visit soon.

Sheikh Tahnoon’s brother is Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a powerful crown prince of Abu Dhabi and long de facto ruler of the Emirates, a federation of seven sheikhs. Under Sheikh Mohammed, the UAE embarked on a rapid expansion of its military forces to counter what it sees as the threat from Iran. The Emirates are also home to US and French forces, and its port of Jebel Ali is the US Navy’s busiest port of call outside of the United States.

Sheikh Tahnoon also held at least one meeting with the head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence services.

Sheikh Mohammed has long feared an Iran with nuclear weapons, according to US diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks.

But the UAE has pulled out of the Saudi-led war in Yemen against Iran-backed Houthi rebels. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the Emirates have also sought to restore diplomatic relations with Turkey, viewed with suspicion as offering refuge to Islamists, and Qatar, which the UAE has boycotted for years along with several others. nations in the context of a political dispute.

Ali Bagheri Kani, Iranian deputy foreign minister leading the Vienna talks, also recently visited the United Arab Emirates for talks.

At the time of the meeting, however, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh criticized the Emirates for their purchase last weekend of € 16 billion of Rafale fighter jets advanced to France. . The UAE is also planning a purchase of $ 23 billion, including advanced F-35 stealth fighters, after its recognition of Israel.

Khatibzadeh urged France to “behave more responsibly” and criticized the “militarization of our region”.

“We are seeing billions of dollars in arms sales to countries in the region despite having many meetings about our missiles,” Khatibzadeh said, mentioning Iran’s ballistic missile program. “With these actions, we become more determined to make our defense shield more active.”

Talks over the Iranian program in Vienna were halted last week after Tehran put forward new demands. Khatibzadeh insisted Iran was not seeking a “temporary” deal in negotiations, which he described as resuming “later this week”. EU officials have yet to announce the time for resuming talks.

Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

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