Kuwait’s Ruler Visits Iran in Latest Sign of Regional Thaw

Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah arrived in Iran for a state visit, in the latest sign of improved ties between the Islamic republic and Gulf Arab neighbors since President Hassan Rouhani took office last year.

The emir is accompanied by Kuwait’s ministers for foreign affairs, finance, oil and trade during the two-day visit, Iran’s state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported earlier today. He is the second ruler in the six-member, Sunni-ruled Gulf Cooperation Council to travel to Iran since Rouhani became president in August. The first was Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al-Said of Oman.

The visit comes after Saudi Arabia, the GCC’s biggest country, said last month it was ready to engage in talks with Shiite-ruled Iran to achieve regional stability. Rouhani has pledged to mend ties with GCC countries wary of Iran’s nuclear program. They also accuse Iran of encouraging Shiites in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Yemen to revolt against Sunni rulers.

“The GCC states and Iran have to acknowledge the influence of each other,” Sami al-Faraj, head of Kuwait Center for Strategic Studies, said in a phone interview. “We are not against Iran’s influence in the region if it’s constructive.”

The Islamic republic denies that it interferes in the domestic affairs of its neighbors and has repeatedly said that its nuclear program is peaceful.

Ties between GCC countries and Iran worsened after the 1979 Islamic revolution, which toppled the pro-U.S. shah. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia supported Iraq during its war with Iran in the 1980s. A prolonged civil war in Syria has also become a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

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