Hedging its bets with US, Qatar reaches out to Tehran

Doha is offering mediation between Tehran and Washington over the landmark nuclear deal.
Tuesday 16/02/2021
President Hassan Rouhani, right, welcomes Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani, in Tehran, Feb. 15, 2021.(AP)
President Hassan Rouhani, right, welcomes Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani, in Tehran, Feb. 15, 2021.(AP)

TEHRAN--Qatar’s foreign minister met his Iranian counterpart Monday, after Doha signalled its intent to offer mediation between Tehran and Washington over the landmark nuclear deal.

The move allows Doha to hedge its bets with both Tehran and Washington, especially as the new US administration continues to consider how to effectively deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

The meeting comes as the 2015 deal between Iran and world powers limiting Tehran’s nuclear programme in exchange for international sanctions relief is hanging by a thread.

Doha, a close US ally, also has good relations with Tehran.

Qatari Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani met in Tehran with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Iran’s presidency said the minister also met with President Hassan Rohani, to whom he delivered a message from Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.

Last week, the Qatari foreign minister said “the State of Qatar is working on de-escalation through a political and diplomatic process to return to the nuclear agreement.”

The remarks came in briefing notes about two separate calls earlier in the week between Thani and US Special Representative for Iran Robert Malley and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.

US President Joe Biden’s administration is exploring ways to restore the nuclear deal that Iran signed with world powers but which was abandoned in 2018 by former President Donald Trump.

Thani said Qatar’s communication was going on with both Iran and the United States, given the “strategic ties” Qatar holds with both.

Trump withdrew from the accord in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions on Tehran, with Iran a year later gradually suspending its compliance with most key nuclear commitments in response.

Though Biden’s administration has expressed willingness to return to the deal, it insisted that Iran first resume full compliance, while Tehran has called for the immediate lifting of sanctions.

Iran has said it will restrict nuclear inspections later in February if US sanctions are not lifted, or other key parties to the deal do not help Tehran bypass them, according to a law passed by the conservative-dominated parliament in December.

On Monday, Iran’s ambassador to the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Kazem Gharibabadi, wrote on Twitter that the law “will be executed on time,” giving February 23 as the date.

“The IAEA has been informed today to ensure the smooth transition to a new course in due time,” he added.

Contacted by the media for comment, a spokesman for the IAEA said the agency’s “Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi will be reporting to the Board (of Governors), and he is also talking to the Iranian authorities.”