KUWAIT CITY (Reuters): Iranian President Hassan Rouhani arrived in Kuwait on Wednesday as part of a lightning two-nation Gulf tour aimed at mending ties strained by the conflicts in Syria and Yemen.
Rouhani was set to meet Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, who last month launched a dialogue with the Islamic republic to normalise Iran-Gulf ties.
Ahead of the trip to Oman and Kuwait, he had expressed support for the latter’s efforts to “resolve misunderstandings and boost relations” with Gulf countries.
“In this trip, there will be discussions about the region, the situation in Iraq, Syria and in particular in Yemen,” Iran’s official news agency IRNA quoted him as saying.
Rouhani’s tour excludes regional kingpin Saudi Arabia, Iran’s key rival.
Tehran’s ties with other Gulf states have been strained over its support for the Syrian regime of Bashar Al-Assad and alleged backing of Yemen’s Huthi rebels.
Rouhani was welcomed by Sultan Qaboos in Muscat, where the two discussed bilateral relations and the situation in the region, Oman’s official ONA news agency reported.
“Tehran has always been in favour of resolving problems and disputes through dialogue,” Rouhani said, according to Iranian media. “Iran’s military power is only defensive.”
He appealed for a ceasefire, increased humanitarian aid and political dialogue to resolve the conflict in Yemen.
“Today, the Yemenis are in a particularly disastrous situation and we all have to act as Muslim countries to help this people,” he said.
Iran traditionally maintains good relations with Oman, with which it shares control of the key Strait of Hormuz shipping lane.
Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Sabah visited Tehran last month, calling for a “normalisation of ties and opening dialogue”.
Kuwait’s deputy foreign minister Khaled al-Jarallah said in remarks published on Wednesday that he hopes Rouhani visit to open a dialogue between the Gulf states and Iran.
The elements needed for the dialogue, which were included in the emir’s letter, call for non-interference in the internal affairs of the Gulf states, respecting their sovereignty and establishing good neighbouring relations, Jarallah said in the comments published in Kuwait’s Al-Qabas newspaper.
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit held in Manama in December asked Kuwait to initiate contacts with Tehran to start a dialogue to improve ties.
Kuwait, where 30 per cent of native citizens are Shias, has maintained normal relations with Tehran despite taking part in the Saudi-led military campaign on Yemen’s Shias Huthi rebels.