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Iranian president visits 2 Gulf Arab states to improve ties

Rouhani meets with sultan of Oman before continuing on to Kuwait; both states have closer relations with Iran than rest of Gulf does

Oman's Sultan Qaboos bin Said (C) and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani review the honour guard upon the later arrival in Muscat on February 15, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mohammed Mahjoub)
Oman's Sultan Qaboos bin Said (C) and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani review the honour guard upon the later arrival in Muscat on February 15, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mohammed Mahjoub)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani arrived in Oman Wednesday as part of a two-state visit aimed at reviving ties with Iran’s Gulf Arab neighbors.

The official Oman News Agency said Omani Sultan Qaboos bin Saeed met with the Iranian president after his arrival on Wednesday to the sultanate, which sits at the southeastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula and shares control of the Strait of Hormuz with Iran.

Rouhani is expected to travel to Kuwait after visiting Oman.

Tehran’s relations with the six-member, Saudi-dominated Gulf Cooperation Council of Arab states have been strained since Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia broke off diplomatic relations with the Shiite power Iran last year.

File: Kuwait's emir, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, right, shakes hands with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during a reception ceremony at the Saadabad Palace in Tehran, Iran, June 1, 2014 (AP/Ebrahim Noroozi, File)
File: Kuwait’s emir, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, right, shakes hands with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during a reception ceremony at the Saadabad Palace in Tehran, Iran, June 1, 2014 (AP/Ebrahim Noroozi, File)

However, unlike most of its fellow GCC members, Oman has sought to maintain cordial relations with Iran, due to both its geographical proximity to Iran and its desire to not fall under the sway of the Saudi dominated bloc.

Unlike the rest of the GCC, which is predominantly Sunni, the majority of Oman’s citizens subscribe to the Ibadi sect of Islam, adding to the country’s desire to pursue a more independent foreign policy than its Sunni neighbors.

Oman hosted secret talks between the US and Iran in the lead-up to the 2015 nuclear deal between the Islamic Republic and world powers, which helped pave the way for the completion of the agreement.

Kuwait also has friendlier relations with Iran than other GCC members, with the country having a large Shiite majority, the tenet of Islam that the vast majority of Iranians follow.

On Tuesday, Hamid Aboutalebi, the Iranian president’s deputy chief of staff, implored the Gulf states to take advantage of Rouhani’s visit to mend ties, calling on them not to let the opportunity “pass like a cloud,” Reuters reported.

“Rouhani’s regional initiative to accept invitation of leaders of Oman and Kuwait signals the need for Islamic friendship and restoration of regional tie,” he said.

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