Rohani’s GCC visit barely makes waves
Iranian President Hassan Rohani’s visits to Kuwait and Oman to improve relations with neighbouring Gulf Arab countries were met with a muted response by the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) at a time when tensions between Tehran and Riyadh show no signs of easing.
The first stop of Rohani’s tour began February 15th in Muscat, where he met with Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said. Oman, which has had cordial relations with Iran, was instrumental in facilitating the talks leading to the Obama administration’s rapprochement with the Islamic Republic that resulted in the 2015 nuclear agreement.
Rohani then travelled to Kuwait City where he and Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Ahmad al-Jaber al- Sabah discussed boosting relations and the “latest regional and international developments”, the Kuwait news agency reported.
The traditionally pro-government Gulf media gave Rohani’s visit to the two GCC member countries little play.
Although silent on Rohani visit, Saudi Arabia Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir was vocal about the state of affairs with the Islamic Republic when speaking at a news conference with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault in Riyadh towards the end of January.
Jubeir said US President Donald Trump’s assessment “about containing Iran and its ability to cause mischief, and making sure that Iran abides by the agreement that was signed” was “exactly our position”.
Rohani’s outreach comes at a time when the United States has imposed new sanctions on Tehran over ballistic missile tests and Trump’s words regarding the direction he might take US policy reverberate and raise concerns around the Middle East.
Thus, Rohani’s effort is not a coincidence, analyst Soran Khedri, an expert on Iranian geopolitics, said. “Iran is trying to alleviate some of the US pressure in light of the Trump administration, by reaching out to the Gulf Arab states and making concessions, as a means to escape forward,” he said.
“Iran’s readiness to make concessions to Gulf Arab countries stems from the concern of US sanctions, or even the possibility of a US-GCC alliance against Iranian influence, that is why Tehran did this primitive strike of a visit in order to prevent the emergence of such a coalition that could threaten its external influence.”
Saudi Arabia cut ties with the Islamic Republic in January 2016 after mobs attacked its diplomatic missions in Iran over the execution of a radical Shia cleric.
Iran retaliated by banning its citizens from attending last year’s haj. An Iranian delegation is to visit the kingdom by the end of February to discuss preparations for the upcoming haj season.