Top Iran official meets UAE’s Mohammed bin Zayed, after Saudi thaw


TEHRAN – Less than a week into a key reconciliation deal with arch-enemy Saudi Arabia, the Islamic Republic sent its security chief to the United Arab Emirates, where he was received by UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed in hopes of warmer ties , and unblocking Iranian assets.

According to the official IRNA news agency, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, sat with Emirati national security adviser Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan on Thursday to discuss a range of bilateral and regional issues. Shamkhani is the main negotiator for Iran in the Saudi deal that China broke.

“I see this trip as a worthy beginning of a new phase in political, economic and security relations,” said Shamkhani. He expressed Iran’s readiness for “constructive engagement” and called for “cooperation to replace hostility” in the Persian Gulf region.

The top security official was accompanied by the Governor of the Central Bank, Mohammad-Reza Farzin, who took charge three months ago in the most turbulent period for Iran’s national currency, which was collapsing due to severe international banking sanctions. From the UAE side, UAE Deputy Prime Minister Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, Secretary General of the Supreme Council for National Security Ali Mohammed Hammad Al Shamsi and others also attended the meeting.

Desperate for foreign currency reserves, the Islamic Republic is going out of its way to unblock its frozen assets abroad, from South Korea to Iraq and the UAE. Farzin’s presence in the delegation, according to Iranian pundits, was telling of his agenda. During Shamkhani’s visit, the Reformer Etemad reported daily, talks will be held on the fate of the 2015 nuclear deal and sanctions relief.

Shamkhani also met with the Emirati President, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, telling him that the roots of regional grievances should be traced to “bad people from America and the Zionist regime. [Israel],” as reported by Iran’s state broadcaster.

The Islamic Republic has been deeply angered by the UAE’s normalization agreement with Israel, to the point that in 2020, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei accused the country’s leaders of treason for joining the Abraham Accords.

In 2016, when Saudi Arabia closed its embassy in Tehran in response to Iran’s heavy-handed storming of its embassy there, Abu Dhabi followed suit and downgraded ties with the Islamic Republic by recalling its ambassador.

Since 2019, however, the relationship has been slowly deteriorating. As a sign that reconciliation was on the horizon, until this week, the Emirati ambassador to Tehran, Saif Mohamed Obaid Jasem al-Zaabi, gave assurances that the UAE will not allow its territory to be used for a foreign attack on the Islamic Republic, according to Entekhab News Agency.

Shamkhani’s visit, which he described as “neighborhood diplomacy” when he left Tehran, coincided with a critical moment of international pressure. The Islamic Republic has been widely criticized for its deadly crackdown on dissent during six months of unrest that sparked the death of Kurdish citizen Mahsa Amini, with the repression exposing the flaws of the nation state and the Islamic Republic’s legitimacy crisis.

The news that talks with the West were expected to save the crucial nuclear deal has made decision-making more complicated for Iran’s leadership. Given Shamkhani’s role in China’s dealings with Saudi Arabia and his visit to the UAE, Iranian pundits are fiercely debating whether the moderate politician was effectively bypassing the Foreign Ministry and hardline negotiators in the nuclear dossier.

For many, Shamkhani is assuming that the role speaks volumes for the level of division in the higher levels of power. From that point of view, the uncompromising approach taken by the ultraconservative administration of President Ebrahim Raisi towards the nuclear deal only increased pressure on Iran, forcing Khamenei to give Shamkhani sufficient authority — perhaps reluctantly — to fix the deal.

There is some precedent. Approaching the nuclear deal in 2015, pressured by economic and political constraints, Khamenei made a U-turn from his signature anti-American approach and hailed negotiations with the West as “heroic flexibility.”

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