Behind the scenes of dialogue with Iran

22/01/2014 – In both the UAE and Teheran, two opposing sides are quarrelling over the resumption of diplomatic relations.

Much to the surprise of the French presidency, the main substance of the meeting between the French Head of State François Hollande and the crown prince of Abu Dhabi,Mohamed – “MBZ” – bin Zayed, was not devoted to bilateral affairs – see p.1 – but to Iran.


Despite the change at the top in Teheran in June 2013, there is still deadlock in the dispute over the three islands of Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs, which are occupied by Iran and claimed by the Emirates. Worse still, the Revolutionary Guard recently increased its presence on the disputed islands, much to the dismay of the Emirates army, commanded by MBZ. The latter bemoaned Iran’s “provocation” at length to the French president and his advisors and argued for a strong hand on Teheran.


The authorities in Abu Dhabi are sticking to a hard line on Iran. The Emirates’ foreign affairs minister, Sheikh Abdallah bin Zayed, went to Teheran on November 28 and his Iranian counterpart Mohamed Jawad Zarif was received in Abu Dhabi on 4 December by the Emir, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, but relations remained cool and no plans are on the table for a state visit.


Dubai, on the contrary, was publicly pleased by the softening of international sanctions against Iran on 20 January, particularly concerning trade in gold and petrochemicals as well as the import and export of spare parts for cars and aircraft. The majority of these deals are made in the Jebel Ali free trade zone, opposite the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.


In Teheran too, there are two opposing sides: PresidentHassan Rohani wants to reach out to the Emirates while the Revolutionary Guard, or Pasdaran, has been taking every opportunity to flex its muscle on Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs, which are held up as symbols of Iranian patriotism.


The islands are run by the Revolutionary Guard quasi-autonomously and serve both as arms depots and as a surveillance hub for the area.