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Wed 8 Mar 2017 05:16 PM

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Iran's foreign minister visits Qatar, meets ruler

Visit suggests that the Islamic Republic is willing to defuse tension with the Gulf Arab states

Iran's foreign minister visits Qatar, meets ruler
Irans Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. (FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif held talks in Qatar on Wednesday with the country's ruler about improving relations, soured by a dispute last year between Tehran and Gulf Arab powerhouse Saudi Arabia.

Tasnim news agency said Zarif also met his Qatari counterpart during the trip to Doha, his second this year.

Qatar and two other Gulf Arab states recalled their envoys from Tehran in January 2016 in solidarity with Saudi Arabia after Iranian protesters torched the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain cut diplomatic relations with Iran.

However, in a signal that he is looking to defuse tension with the Arab oil-exporting monarchies, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visited Kuwait and Oman last month in his first trip to the Gulf states since taking power in 2013.

An Iranian diplomat in Doha, who declined to be named, said Zarif discussed on Wednesday with Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani how to "better ties" between the two countries. Qatar has yet to reinstate its ambassador to Iran.

The mainly Sunni Muslim Gulf Arab states accuse majority-Shi'ite Iran of exploiting sectarian divisions to expand its influence in Arab countries, especially in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen.

Iran, set to benefit from an easing of international sanctions after its nuclear deal with world powers in 2015, denies interfering in Arab states.

Kuwait, which has a sizeable Shi'ite Muslim minority, is seen as a potential mediator. When Kuwait's emir visited Iran in 2014 it was the first by a ruler of the U.S.-allied Gulf Arab state since the 1979 revolution.

Despite the tensions, long-standing trade links and shared access to oil and gas fields have stopped many Gulf states from shutting the door on Iran.

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