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Dubai ruler calls for Iran sanctions to be lifted

DUBAI: The ruler of Dubai, a Gulf trade and investment hub with strong links to Iran, said in remarks broadcast Monday that the international community should ease sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

Under a deal struck in November, Iran is expected to curb its nuclear activity in exchange for a limited easing of the international sanctions. The pact will come into force Jan. 20, Iran and world powers agreed Sunday.

Asked whether he thought it was time to lift the sanctions, Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid al-Maktoum, who is also the prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, told British broadcaster the BBC:

“I think so and give Iran a space ... Iran is our neighbor and we don’t want any problem, he said, adding that “everybody will benefit.”

Despite a decade of sanctions, Iran has managed to get most of the commodities and goods it needs via Dubai’s flourishing re-export market, although new embargoes imposed by the United States and its allies in late 2011 and early 2012 have hit it hard.

The vast majority of trade between Iran and its Gulf Arab neighbors is routed through Dubai, home to tens of thousands of ethnic Iranians and one of seven emirates making up the United Arab Emirates.

Iran says its atomic energy program is aimed purely at electricity generation and other civilian purposes, although past Iranian attempts to hide sensitive nuclear activity from U.N. non-proliferation inspectors raised concerns.

“I think they’re telling the truth when they say just for civilian power,” Sheikh Mohammad said in the interview.

Shortly after the Nov. 24 deal, Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif went to the UAE to try and improve relations with the U.S. ally. Across the Gulf from Iran, the UAE stands to benefit directly from any easing of sanctions under the nuclear deal that have dampened regional trade.

Zarif met Sheikh Mohammad during his December visit and the UAE was the first Gulf Arab state to cautiously welcome November’s nuclear deal. The UAE foreign minister flew to Iran days after the agreement was signed, on a trip planned before the deal, calling for a partnership with the Islamic Republic.

The six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council are wary of Iranian power in the Middle East, fearing it is seeking regional dominance. Tehran denies this.

But they have also welcomed Iran’s “new direction” under President Hassan Rouhani and said Tehran should do more to promote stability in the region.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 15, 2014, on page 5.

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