In provocative move, Doha holds talks with Tehran
DUBAI –In a provocative move to Qatar’s Arab Gulf neighbours and Washington, Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani held talks with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, on “a range of issues, including bilateral ties and international developments,” according to a report by Iran’s Tasnim news agency.
The talks, held via a video call, came as US Special Representative for Iran and senior adviser to the Secretary of State Brian Hook was touring Arab Gulf countries to rally support for the extension of a United Nations arms embargo on Iran as tensions with Washington’s arch-rival remain high.
Qatari ties with Iran have been a major source of concern for the United States and Arab Gulf countries, which have long accused Tehran of fuelling tensions in the region by arming Houthi rebels in Yemen and other proxies and terrorist cells.
The recent talks between the Qatari and Iranian foreign ministers are likely to exacerbate a rift between Doha and the Arab quartet — Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain — that began about four years ago.
In June 2017, the four countries severed diplomatic relations with Qatar, suspended flights to and from the country, barred Qatari aircraft from flying through their airspace and imposed other economic sanctions on Doha because of its alleged support of terrorism and ties with Iran.
Boycotted by the quartet, Doha has gradually slid into an open alliance with Iran, the arch-rival of Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, one of the few remaining havens for Islamist groups, notably the Muslim Brotherhood.
Iran, Turkey and Qatar quietly struck a deal in 2018 in Tehran to create a “joint working group to facilitate the transit of goods between the three countries.”
While the agreement seemed like a modest effort to streamline trade flow to Qatar, which can no longer access air, land and sea routes to neighbouring Arab countries, it has proven to be a mechanism to further the agendas of Ankara and Tehran, which are at loggerheads with Saudi Arabia.
In January this year, Iranian President Hassan Rohani said that Iran has stood and will stand beside Qatar in the future.
“At a juncture of time, certain regional countries imposed restrictions on Qatar, but Iran stood beside Qatar and will stand based on its duties as a neighbour,” Rohani said during a joint news conference with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani in Tehran.
Rohani also said that the two countries have a very good relationship in various areas of economy, science and culture.
The development of relations between Doha and Tehran has been a serious source of concern for Washington, especially at a time when Americans are betting on a “maximum pressure” campaign to isolate the Islamic Republic.
In May 2018, the US unilaterally withdrew from a nuclear agreement with Iran — officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), accusing Tehran of violating the terms of the deal and imposing crippling economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic.