CAIRO – Iran’s new top diplomat, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, appears to be focusing its efforts on Arab states in an attempt to thaw long-frozen relations with Tehran’s Arab and Gulf neighbors. The effort comes amid the ongoing proxy war in Yemen involving Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Iran’s regional deputies increased the heat against archenemy Saudi Arabia this week and hit the Saudi Arabia-controlled Anad Air Force Base near Aden in Yemen and Abha Airport on Saudi soil in a drone attack early Tuesday. Eight people were reportedly injured in Tuesday’s attack, for which the Saudis blamed the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. There was no immediate comment from the rebels.
The incidents follow Abdollahian’s attempts to get close to Arab opponents at a recent regional summit in Baghdad.
Abdollahian’s first appearance at the top diplomatic meeting since taking office as Foreign Minister last week was marked by a call for regional cooperation. Some Arab leaders seemed to annoy Abdollahian’s presence, along with his attempt to win over his audience by speaking Arabic.
Abdollahian’s Iraqi hosts openly sought a diplomatic breakthrough by promoting a thaw in relations between Tehran and its top regional adversaries, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Abdollahian also blamed external players for regional tensions, apparently with reference to the US and its allies.
Abdollahian said Iran continues to insist on achieving peace based on dialogue and regional effort, and hopes these countries will come to the realization that this can only be done through mutual trust among countries in the region based on strengthening dialogue and avoidance of outside interference.
It was not clear whether Abdollahian managed to change long-standing positions in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. A Sunday visit to the Syrian capital Damascus did not seem to alleviate regional dissatisfaction with Iran’s supremacy over Arab states such as Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen. The attacks on Anad Air Force Base and Abha Airport did not seem to improve relations with Riyadh either.
Iranian analyst and former diplomat Mehrdad Khonsari told VOA that Saudi Arabia has been forced to weaken its position on Iran despite not liking the Islamic Republic.
“… Yemen has been a total disaster for them and they know that without Iranian help and without an Iranian attitude of the kind of support they give to the Houthis, they cannot get out of Yemen and at the same time sometimes they like it not having to do what to do … “said Khonsari. “They are doing something and walking a line that they absolutely loathe and that has been essentially forced upon them.”
Get off to a quick start
Washington-based golf analyst Theodore Karasik told VOA that he believes the new Iranian foreign minister is quick to show what he’s made of. Karasik noted that Abdollahian paid his respects to his former mentor, the late General Qassem Soleimani, by praying at the site outside the Baghdad airport where Soleimani was killed in a US drone attack last January. Soleimani was the head of the elite Iranian Quds troop.
Karasik also points out that Abdollahian “apparently violated the protocol of the Baghdad summit by not being at his assigned photo spot” before going to Damascus on Sunday for a “very warm meeting with (Syrian President Bashar al-) Assad “traveled.
Karasik said the moves “will be interpreted as aggressive by some Middle East analysts and may set the tone when (Iran’s new) President (Ebrahim) Raisi sets up his team.”
During his visit to Damascus, Abdollahian took time to take photos with President Assad and gave a brief press conference at the Syrian Foreign Ministry, noting that Tehran and Damascus are the warmest allies.
Connections to Soleimani
Both Abdollahian and Iran’s National Security Advisor Admiral Ali Shamkani had close ties with Soleimani, so the new government appears to be claiming that Soleimani’s regional strategies will remain unchanged.
In light of Abdollahian’s aggressive behavior, Karasik said, “the time we have spoken to in the West is going to be very interesting,” while the Iranian nuclear record is drawing a new light on Tehran’s new team. Iran has claimed that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.