February 14, 2017 / 6:44 AM / in 10 months

Iran urges Gulf states to 'seize the opportunity' of Rouhani visit

DUBAI (Reuters) - A top Iranian official called on the Gulf Arab states on Tuesday to seize the opportunity of a visit by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to Oman and Kuwait to improve ties, warning that a chance like this would “pass like a cloud”.

FILE PHOTO: Iran's President Hassan Rouhani attends a meeting during the Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD) summit at the Foreign Ministry in Bangkok, Thailand, October 10, 2016. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha/File Photo

Rouhani will visit Oman and Kuwait on Wednesday on his first visit to the Gulf states since taking power in 2013.

The six Arab members of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), especially Saudi Arabia, accuse Iran of using sectarianism to interfere in Arab countries and build its own sphere of influence in the Middle East. Iran denies the accusations.

“Rouhani’s regional initiative to accept invitation of leaders of Oman and Kuwait signals the need for Islamic friendship and restoration of regional ties,” Hamid Aboutalebi, the Iranian president’s deputy chief of staff, tweeted on Tuesday.

“This regional initiative is an opportunity that our regional friends should seize. Opportunity passes like a cloud. Take advantage of the good opportunity,” he added.

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.

Oman has traditionally resisted Gulf Arab states’ efforts to close ranks against Iran. It helped to mediate secret U.S.-Iran talks in 2013 that led to a historic nuclear deal signed in Geneva two years later.

Kuwait’s foreign minister paid a rare visit to Tehran late in January to deliver a message to Rouhani on the “basis of dialogue” between Gulf Arab states and Iran.

Rouhani said Kuwait was among at least 10 countries to have offered to mediate in Iran’s escalating feud with Saudi Arabia.

The Iranian president will meet Oman’s Sultan Qaboos in Muscat on Wednesday before traveling on to Kuwait on the invitation of its ruler, Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, Rouhani’s deputy chief of staff for communications, Parviz Esmaeili, was quoted as saying on Monday by state-run Press TV.

Iran’s ambassador to Kuwait, Alireza Enayati, was quoted by ISNA news agency as saying that “on this one-day visit regional issues as well as bilateral cooperation will be discussed”.

Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by Gareth Jones

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