UAE returns ambassador to Iran as region prepares for potential nuclear deal

Ending 6 years in the cold, the UAE will send its ambassador to Tehran amid reports of progress in nuclear deal; Israel continues to warn against any agreement

UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan (right) meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on December 4, 2013. (AP/WAM/File)
UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan (right) meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on December 4, 2013. (AP/WAM/File)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The United Arab Emirates planned to reinstate its ambassador to Iran for the first time in six years, the Emirati Foreign Ministry announced Sunday, as the Gulf Arab federation accelerated efforts to improve ties with the nation it has long viewed as a regional threat.

The Emirates’ ambassador to Iran, Saif Mohammed Al Zaabi, will return to Tehran in the coming days to “continue pushing bilateral relations forward to achieve the common interests of the two neighbors and the region,” the UAE’s state-run WAM news agency reported.

The move comes as American and Iranian diplomats now seek to end 16 months of negotiations over the revival of Tehran’s landmark nuclear deal with world powers.

Top Israeli officials have warned their counterparts in the US and Europe against the deal and called for the negotiators to give up on the talks, with fears that an agreement would legitimize the Iranian pursuit of a nuclear weapon.

For its part, Iran has denied any nefarious intentions and claims its program is designed for peaceful purposes, though Iran has recently been enriching uranium to levels that international leaders say have no civil use.

The upgraded ties between the Gulf states and Iran may place strain on the Abraham Accords, with Israel seeking to maximize international pressure on the Iranian regime.

Israel’s ties with several Gulf states, both overt and covert, are said to be closely linked to shared worries about Iranian influence in the region.

Then-US president Donald Trump, center, with from left, Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, during the Abraham Accords signing ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, September 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Israel and the UAE forged official ties in the United States-brokered Abraham Accords in 2020, bringing over a decade of covert ties into the open. The two countries have seen their relationship flourish since then.

Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco later also joined the Accords, and other countries were also rumored to be in talks, though none has come to fruition so far.

Other Gulf Arab states advocated for a detente with Iran. Last week, Kuwait appointed a new ambassador to Tehran for the first time since 2016. Saudi Arabia similarly worked to cool tensions with Iran in a series of Baghdad-mediated talks.

Ties between the Gulf Arab sheikhdoms and Iran deteriorated after Iranian crowds stormed two Saudi diplomatic missions in Tehran to protest against the kingdom’s execution of a prominent Shiite cleric. In 2016, the UAE summoned home its ambassador in Tehran. Relations between the countries soured further as the UAE backed former president Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal and so-called “maximum pressure” campaign against the Islamic Republic.

This frame grab from a video released by Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard on November 3, 2021, shows the seized Vietnamese-flagged oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman. (Revolutionary Guard via AP, File)

But Abu Dhabi sought to reconsider after Iran was blamed for a series of attacks on oil tankers off the coast of the UAE and on Saudi oil facilities in 2019.

Meanwhile Dubai, with its large community of Iranian expats, has long served as a lifeline to the outside world for Tehran, as it suffered under international sanctions.

Despite Israeli interests, Emirati officials have escalated efforts to boost trade relations with Iran and reduce the threat from its regional proxies. Earlier this year, drone and missile strikes by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen hit Abu Dhabi, hurting the UAE’s reputation as a safe haven in a volatile region.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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