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U.A.E Seeks To Reduce Tensions With Iran, Say Media Reports

UAE -- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan in Abu Dhabi, September 19, 2019
UAE -- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan in Abu Dhabi, September 19, 2019

As mediation efforts are under way to reduce tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia amid an escalation caused by the attacks on the Aramco oil facilities, there are indications that the United Arab Emirates has started to improve its ties with Iran.

In one of the latest developments, Akbar Torki, a member of the Iranian Parliament, said on October 20 that the UAE had released $700 million of Iran's frozen assets in that country.

Torki said foreign-exchange relations between Iran and the United Arab Emirates have improved, adding that Iranian exchange bureaus have reopened in Dubai after a long period of closure, the Iranian Parliament’s ICANA news agency reported on October 20.

However, he did not go into detail about the development, and the Iranian Foreign Ministry has also remained silent.

In the meantime, the semi-official news agency ISNA, which is close to the administration of President Hassan Rouhani, ran a report on October 20 that said the UAE, like Saudi Arabia, has been recently trying to "downgrade tensions between the two countries and Iran from the military level to a political level."

Tensions between the UAE and Iran have been on the rise since the United Arab Emirates joined the Saudi coalition in the war in Yemen. Meanwhile, tensions between the two countries reached a fever pitch when Iran was blamed for attacks on four oil tankers on the UAE shores in July.

Middle East observer and former Iranian diplomat Nasrollah Tajik told ISNA that one reason the UAE is attempting to reduce tensions with Iran is that "President Donald Trump is focused on America and is not interested in paying the cost of security of the Persian Gulf states."

Tajik added, "Trump is standing by his promise of reducing U.S. intervention in the region ahead of the 2020 U.S. elections." In the meantime, he added, countries in the region, including the UAE, are trying to avoid being caught in a possible Iran-U.S. standoff.

Referring to billions of dollars' worth of contracts signed during Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent visits to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the Iranian regional relations expert claimed that Persian Gulf states are attempting to replace the United States with Russia as a player that can guarantee their security.

Tajik said the de-escalation of tensions with Iran follows the same strategy. He added that the UAE has been trying to pave the way for renewed activities by Iranian businesses in that country and provide more opportunities for Iranian residents in the UAE.

ISNA had reported earlier, on October 6, that the UAE is trying to move toward "zero tensions" with Iran and replace its tactic of direct and indirect confrontation with a "political compromise."

The report said the losses sustained by the UAE as a result of the prolonged war in Yemen may have been instrumental in the shift in the UAE's Iran policy.

The apparent change in UAE policy follows mediation efforts by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to reduce tensions between Tehran and Riyadh, a gesture that has been welcomed in both capitals.

At the same time, it appears the change in the regional countries' policy toward Iran is not universal. A report by the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) on October 19 quoted Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid Bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa as accusing Iran of sending weapons and explosives to Bahrain.

ILNA quoted Al-Khalifa as having said that explosives seized by the government were enough to destroy half of Bahrain’s capital, Manamah. He said Iran will be responsible for the act if it fails to send a peaceful message to stress positive ties with neighboring Bahrain.