Israel to open representative office in Abu Dhabi, first in UAE

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel plans to open a diplomatic-level mission to the International Renewable Energy Agency in Abu Dhabi, its first openly established representative office in the United Arab Emirates, Israeli diplomats said on Friday.

The office will not be a full mission, but will consist of a diplomat assigned to the renewable energy agency. Nevertheless, it will be the first time an Israeli foreign ministry official is permanently stationed in the Gulf state.

Foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon confirmed details first reported in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz and three diplomatic officials told Reuters the move was underway.

Israel does not have formal diplomatic ties with most states in the Middle East because of the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Its only formal relations are with neighbors Egypt and Jordan.

But the nuclear agreement between world powers and Shi'ite Muslim power Iran has caused disquiet in Israel and Sunni Arab states alike. Common ground has emerged between the two sides, even if they are cautious about drawing attention to the links.

In recent years, Israeli officials have met counterparts from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf at nuclear non-proliferation talks in Switzerland, gatherings that the Israelis say have helped melt the ice and lead to increased dialogue.

A delegation from Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs visited IRENA's offices in Abu Dhabi and met with its director-general earlier in the week, a spokesperson for IRENA said in a written statement.

Under the terms of IRENA's "headquarters agreement", which establishes its base in Abu Dhabi, all members have the right to send permanent missions accredited to the organization, the statement added. The UAE, as host country, must facilitate.

The director-general of Israel's foreign ministry, Dore Gold, visited Abu Dhabi this month, the first time someone of his diplomatic rank has publicly made such a trip. Israeli ministers have visited the Gulf.

While the Abu Dhabi mission is seen as a positive step, both Israeli and UAE officials voiced caution.

An agreement between IRENA and Israel would not represent "any change in the position of the UAE or its relations with Israel," said a spokesperson for the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement carried on state news agency WAM.

Likewise, an Israeli official noted that while the mission was "half a step out the door", it was still a long way from being a full diplomatic posting.

"This is accreditation to the International Renewable Energy Agency, nothing else. It is in Abu Dhabi, not a mission to Abu Dhabi," he said.

(Reporting by Luke Baker and Katie Paul; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Larry King)