Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has called for greater unity between Shiite and Sunni Muslims during his first official visit to the Arab Gulf since being elected in 2013.
As part of a one-day tour on Wednesday, Rouhani is visiting Oman and Kuwait, two countries Iran has enjoyed relatively warmer relations with in comparison to its ties with regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia.
"The basis of the policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran is always good neighbourly relations with neighbours and the security of the Persian Gulf," Rouhani is quoted as saying by the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).
The Iranian leader also pointed out that Sunnis and Shiites had "coexisted side by side peacefully for hundreds of years" in the region.
Tensions between the mainly-Shiite Iran and mainly-Sunni Arab Gulf states have been high over opposing interests in the civil wars in Syria and Yemen.
While Iran has supported Bashar al Assad’s regime in Syria and Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen, the Arab Gulf states – namely Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar – have supported the Syrian opposition as well as the Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi’s embattled government.
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, which had helped to mediate secret US-Iran talks in 2013 that led to the historic nuclear deal signed in Geneva two years later, only expressed regret over the attack.
Oman’s Sultan Qaboos welcomed Rouhani with a 21 gun salute when he arrived at the al-Alam Palace in the capital Muscat, where the two leaders discussed ways for enhancing bilateral cooperation, Omani state news agency ONA reported, giving no further details.
Rouhani will travel to Kuwait later on Wednesday for talks with the country’s emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah. The two sides are expected to discuss ways to ease tensions between Tehran and Riyadh.