BEIRUT (Reuters) - Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his country sought good relations with its Gulf Arab neighbors as he began a one-day trip to Oman and Kuwait on Wednesday, his first since taking power in 2013.
Relations between predominantly Shi’ite Iran and the mainly Sunni Arab countries of the Gulf, particularly Saudi Arabia, remain strained over their support for opposing sides in the conflicts in Syria and Yemen.
“The basis of the policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran is always good neighborly relations with neighbors and the security of the Persian Gulf,” Rouhani said, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).
Rouhani also said there should be greater unity between Shi’ites and Sunnis, saying they had “coexisted side by side peacefully for hundreds of years”, IRNA reported.
Omani state news agency ONA reported that the country’s ruler, Sultan Qaboos, welcomed Rouhani with a 21 gun salute when he arrived at the al-Alam Palace in the capital Muscat. Omani media showed Qaboos receiving Rouhani outside the palace, the sultan’s second public appearance since he returned from medical checks in Germany in April last year.
The agency said the two sides discussed ways for enhancing bilateral cooperation but gave no further details. Oman helped to mediate secret U.S.-Iran talks in 2013 that led to the historic nuclear deal signed in Geneva two years later.
Qaboos became the first Arab head of state to visit Iran after Rouhani took office.
In 2013, the two countries signed an agreement to supply Iranian gas to Oman through a pipeline to be built under the Gulf in a deal valued at $60 billion.
Saudi Arabia and Bahrain cut diplomatic relations with Iran in January 2016 after protesters torched the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates recalled their envoys in a show of solidarity with Riyadh, but Oman only expressed regret over the attack, highlighting its better ties.
Rouhani was due in Kuwait later on Wednesday for talks with the emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, expected to include efforts to ease tensions between Tehran and Riyadh.
Kuwait’s foreign minister made a rare visit to Tehran in late January and called for frank dialogue between Iran and its regional neighbors.
Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh and Sami Aboudi in Dubai,; Editing by Gareth Jones