The national security adviser of the United Arab Emirates,Tahnoun bin Zayed, has been visiting Tehran on a secret mission aiming to defuse the tensions in the Gulf, a senior security source in the UAE told London-based news outlet Middle East Eye (MEE).
The visit by Zayed, also the younger brother of UAE crown prince Mohammed bin Zayed, marks the highest-level meeting between Abu Dhabi and Tehran after four tankers off the Emirati port of Fujairah were attacked in May.
The US military accused Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) of being directly responsible for attacks on the tankers. Washington has labelled the IRGC a “terror” group.
However, the UAE itself never publicly blamed Tehran.
Last month, Abu Dhabi welcomed an initiative by European leaders to ease tension with Iran and open a diplomatic path.
“With persistence, the E3 [Britain, France and Germany] can open up a new channel of communication and establish greater trust,” the UAE foreign affairs minister, Anwar Gargash, wrote in the Financial Times.
“The UAE, Iran and other states can share the Gulf as normal neighbours, if not as the best of friends.”
Zayed’s mission comes amid a number of backchannel efforts to facilitate a dialogue between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
According to the MEE, an official in the Iraqi prime minister’s office, Abbas al-Hasnawi,confirmed that Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi was mediating between Riyadh and Tehran.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan also visited Tehran on Sunday as part of efforts to ease tensions in the region.
Khan met Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in the first leg of his tour that also included a stop in Saudi Arabia.
“The reason for this trip is that we do not want a conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran,” Khan told reporters as he stood alongside Rouhani.
Emphasising the visit to the two countries was Pakistan’s “initiative”, he said: “We recognise that it’s a complex issue … but we feel that this can be resolved through dialogue. But what should never happen, is war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.”
Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir said on Sunday that Riyadh had not asked Islamabad to mediate.
Al Jazeera’s Assed Baig, reporting from Tehran, said it was uncertain as to how Iran and Saudi Arabia would move forward, given their differences on other regional issues, including the war in Yemen where they support different parties.
“Tensions are still high. It’s a massive task ahead of them,” said Baig, adding: “[Rouhani] said that there should be an end to the war in Yemen…he said there should be an immediate ceasefire and humanitarian assistance.”
On Friday, an Iranian tanker came under attack off the Saudi coast in Red Sea, raising new fears of escalation.
Khan, who is expected to arrive in Saudi Arabia later this week, will have an uphill task, as Riyadh has been warming up to Tehran’s foes – Israel and the US. Washington has already deployed troops in Saudi Arabia.