KUWAIT CITY, Kuwait: Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah flew to Tehran on Sunday for a landmark visit expected to focus on mending fences between Shiite Iran and Sunni-ruled Gulf states.
The two-day visit comes amid a thaw in relations between Tehran and the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) that began after the election of Iranian moderate President Hassan Rouhani last June.
Sheikh Sabah, on his first visit to Tehran as head of state, leads a high level delegation consisting of the ministers of foreign affairs, oil, finance, commerce and industry in addition to senior officials.
Kuwaiti officials said the visit will also focus on controversial regional issues, including Iran’s military involvement in Syria, the situation in Iraq and Egypt and the Middle East peace process.
Relations between Iran and the Gulf, namely signs of rapprochement between regional power broker Saudi Arabia and Iran, will also be discussed during the visit, foreign ministry under-secretary Khaled al-Jarallah told Al-Hayat newspaper.
He said Kuwait, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the GCC—which also includes Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates—has balanced links with Tehran and is willing to mediate between Riyadh and Tehran.
Saudi Arabia and its GCC partners are deeply suspicious of Iran’s nuclear ambitions and wary of the talks under way between Tehran and Western powers aimed at striking a long-term compromise.
Riyadh is also at odds with Iran over the Syria war, in which Tehran backs the government and Saudi Arabia the rebels, as well as its involvement in Iraq, Bahrain and other countries in the region.
Last month Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal invited his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif to visit Riyadh. He accepted but no date has yet been set.
Saudi Arabia has also invited Iran to attend a two-day meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation that opens on June 18 in Jeddah, with Tehran welcoming the invite as a “friendly” gesture.
In December, Zarif toured Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar, but skipped Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
Kuwait’s ambassador to Tehran Majdi al-Dhafiri told the official KUNA that Sheikh Sabah will discuss with the Iranian president a number of “strategic projects” useful for the whole region. He did not elaborate.