Officials from the United Arab Emirates and Iran met to discuss maritime security for the first time in six years amid a spike in tensions in the Persian Gulf, both countries confirmed on Wednesday.
The meeting is significant because the UAE and Iran are regional rivals. The UAE downgraded ties with Iran in 2016 and has long pushed for more hawkish U.S. policies toward Tehran, including supporting tough American sanctions.
The UAE and its close ally, Saudi Arabia, have also been at war against Iran-aligned rebels in Yemen since 2015. In recent weeks, though, the UAE has pulled out thousands of its troops from Yemen as it boosts security at home.
Recent confrontations in the Strait of Hormuz, a crucial oil shipping corridor, and fears of a wider conflict have prompted the UAE to call for de-escalation and diplomacy with Iran.
An Emirati official said the Iran-UAE meeting focused on issues related to border security and navigation in shared waters, describing the talks as “nothing new” and unrelated to current tensions.
The official said there were periodic meetings scheduled between technical teams in both countries and this was the sixth one to take place. The official was not authorized to discuss the talks with reporters and so spoke on condition of anonymity.
The state-run IRAN daily reported that a seven-member delegation from Abu Dhabi met with Iranian border and coastguard commanders in Tehran on Tuesday in the first such meeting since 2013.
Another daily, Etemad, described the meeting as an effort to boost maritime security cooperation between the two countries. It reported that the Emirati delegation met Iran’s police border guard commander, Gen. Ghasem Rezaei.
Despite pursuing rival policies in the region, the UAE and Iran have maintained links. The UAE has kept its embassy in Iran open and Dubai remains a popular destination for Iranian tourists. Emirati citizens with Iranian heritage also maintain links with Iran, which operates a hospital, cultural club and school in Dubai.
News of the visit to Iran sparked a regional Twitter hashtag that read in Arabic: “Saudi Arabia discovers the Emirates’ betrayal.” It drew more than 73,000 tweets, but loyalists of both the Saudi and the UAE government quickly flooded the hashtag with videos and messages about the two countries’ historic and fraternal ties.