Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah started on Sunday his first visit to Iran since his inauguration as the Gulf state’s ruler in 2006.
“Iranian President Hassan Rowhani on Sunday welcomed His Highness the visiting Kuwaiti Amir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah,” Kuwait’s state news agency KUNA reported Sunday.
The landmark visit focused on mending fences between Shiite Iran and the Sunni-ruled monarchies in the Gulf.
The two-day visit comes amid a thaw in ties between Tehran and six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) since the election of Iran’s moderate President Hassan Rowhani in June 2013.
Sheikh Sabah flew in at the head of a high-level delegation including the foreign, oil, finance, commerce and industry ministers.
“Our ties with Kuwait are very important to us and we hope this trip would be a new chapter to boost cooperation,” said Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, quoted by state news agency IRNA.
The two sides signed several agreements including a memorandum of understanding to coordinate their security efforts.
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, Kuwaiti officials said.
Relations between Iran and the Gulf, namely signs of rapprochement between regional power brokers Saudi Arabia and Iran, will also be discussed during the visit, Kuwaiti 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 (UAE) - has balanced links with Tehran and is willing to mediate between Riyadh and Tehran.
While Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister has invited his Iranian counterpart to visit Riyadh last month, the kingdom and its GCC partners are still 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.
The UAE’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed al-Nahyan said on Saturday during his German counterpart’s visit to the capital Abu Dhabi that regional differences with Iran are not only about Tehran’s nuclear program but also with other issues agitating its neighbors.
Sheikh al-Nahyan said issues with the Islamic Republic stem from its “interference” with the affairs of neighboring Arab countries.
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.
But Zarif told IRNA on Sunday that he will not be able to attend because the timing coincides with the next round of nuclear talks between Iran and world powers, scheduled for June 16-20 in Vienna.
In December, Zarif toured Kuwait, the UAE, Oman and Qatar, but skipped Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
Kuwait’s ambassador to Tehran, Majdi al-Dhafiri, told Kuwait’s official news agency KUNA that Sheikh Sabah and Rowhani will discuss a number of “strategic projects” useful for the whole region. He did not elaborate.