Iran sends foreign minister Zarif to Kuwait following emir death

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Iran wants Kuwait to remain neutral in Tehran’s struggle against US role in region.

FILE PHOTO: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif looks on during a meeting with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in Moscow, Russia December 30, 2019.  (photo credit: REUTERS/EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA)

FILE PHOTO: Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif looks on during a meeting with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in Moscow, Russia December 30, 2019.

(photo credit: REUTERS/EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA)

Iran’s sending of its foreign minister to Kuwait in the wake of the death of the Gulf state’s leader is a message to Kuwait City that it should stay neutral in issues relating to Iraq, the US, the Gulf and Israel.

Iran sent Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to Kuwait on Sunday after Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, who had been in power since 2006, died on September 29.

Kuwait still bears the scars of the 1990 Iraqi invasion by Saddam Hussein and has attempted since then to steer clear of Gulf rivalries and Iran issues. In the 1980s, the country was the center of the tanker war and also bomb plots by Iranian-backed men such as Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was assassinated by the US in January.

Zarif’s visit comes amid rumors of countries in the region being encouraged by the US to normalize relations with Israel. Oman, Kuwait, Sudan and other countries have been on the list.

Kuwait has rejected normalization. The emir’s death and the trip by Zarif are significant symbols of how important Tehran views its small, southwestern neighbor. Tehran knows that Kuwait hosts massive US army bases.

Washington is under pressure in Iraq from Iranian-backed militias. Dozens of rocket attacks have targeted the US in Iraq, causing it to draw down troops to 3,000 from 5,200. The US handed over eight facilities to the Iraqis and is in the process of consolidating its troops in northern Iraq. Kuwait hosts the Bradley Fighting Vehicles that America recently deployed to Syria.

There are rumors that the drone that killed IRGC head Qasem Soleimani flew from Kuwait’s Ali Salem base; Kuwait has denied that. However, this means Iran is watching Kuwait and the American bases. It knows they are key to the supply link to the US in the region. Convoys that supply the US, apparently driving from Kuwait, are often targeted in Iraq on the way to Baghdad and other areas in the country.

Zarif met with key officials, including the new emir and the foreign minister. The new emir, Sabah’s half-brother, Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah, is 83. He is Kuwait’s 16th emir.

Zarif brought a letter from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, according to Fars News. Rouhani said the former emir “played an important role in establishing regional balance and moderation.” Iran wants that balance to continue – and to slowly eject the US from the region.

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