US, Iran officials visit Kuwait after death of emir

Kuwait City (AFP) –


Top officials from the US and Iran on Sunday visited Kuwait to meet with the new emir, Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, who was sworn in last week.

Sheikh Nawaf succeeded his half-brother, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, a giant of Gulf diplomacy who died at the age of 91.

In a divided region, Sheikh Sabah cultivated a role as a go-between and mediator, a status illustrated by Sunday's visitors who included senior officials from arch-rivals Washington and Tehran.

US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper conveyed his condolences over the loss of the late leader in a meeting with the new emir, who also expressed concern over the health of US President Donald Trump.

Sheikh Nawaf said he was glad that Trump, who has been hospitalised after being diagnosed with coronavirus, was "recovering and well". Esper thanked him for his "expression of concern".

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif met separately with the new emir and his Kuwaiti counterpart to pay his respects.

Zarif "congratulated them on the election of the new emir of Kuwait and stressed the support of the Islamic Republic of Iran," the Iranian foreign ministry said in a statement.

Dubai's ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum also visited to express his condolences, the Dubai Media Office said in a tweet.

Kuwait and the United States are close allies, bound by a defence agreement that expires in 2022, but the Gulf state also balances relations with regional powers Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The US alliance was sealed with the Gulf War in 1991, during which a US-led international coalition expelled Saddam Hussein's Iraqi troops from Kuwait after seven months of occupation.

Before arriving in Kuwait on Sunday, Esper spent the night in Qatar, another US ally in the oil-rich Gulf, where he discussed "the importance of the strong defence partnership" between the two countries.

Kuwait has also acted as a mediator in a diplomatic divide between Qatar and its Gulf neighbours, after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in 2017 imposed a blockade on Doha.