Originally published in The SOAS Spirit
Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, indicated his country’s support for the Vienna-Iran nuclear deal talks during a visit by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to Doha on 21 February. The discussions between the two Gulf nations resulted in the signing of several bilateral agreements, including a plan to connect the countries via an underwater tunnel.
Raisi’s visit to Doha is considered by academics to be significant on many fronts. It marks his first visit to a Gulf nation and his fourth international visit since taking office in June 2021. It is the first visit by an Iranian President to Doha in 11 years.
The visit follows an unannounced visit by Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani to Tehran earlier in January. The Qatari Foreign Minister discussed Yemen and Afghanistan with his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian.
Qatar enjoys good ties with Iran, with whom it shares the world’s largest natural-gas condensate field in the Persian Gulf. Iran supported Qatar during the 2017 Qatar diplomatic crisis when Saudi Arabia and its allies boycotted the small Gulf nation due to allegations of supporting terrorism and diapproval of Qatar’s ties to Iran and Turkey. Qatar and Saudi Arabia agreed an end to the crisis on 4 January 2021 after signing an agreement brokered by the United States and Kuwait.
Raisi had hoped that his trip to Qatar would boost political and trade relations with Gulf Arab countries, as well as being an opportunity to discuss issues of ‘common concern’ between the two nations. One such issue was the ongoing Vienna talks that aim to revive the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and western powers, known as The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the JCPOA in May 2018, calling it ‘defective at its core.’ President Joe Biden has been trying to revive the deal since taking office in January 2020. He says the US will rejoin and lift sanctions if Iran reverses its breaches of the JCPOA, while Raisi maintains that the US must make the first move.
Commenting on the Vienna talks, Raisi said that ‘guarantees are essential to reach an agreement,’ and urged the United States to prove it is willing to lift heavy sanctions if a deal is struck. Qatar’s Emir said his country was prepared to do what it can to assist in bringing an agreeable solution to all sides in Vienna.
Iran also suggested that it would be open to discussions with Saudi Arabia, which Al-Jazeera reporter Jamal Elshayyal suggests could lead Qatar to find itself ‘in a position where it may play mediator’ between the two opposing regional powers.
Photo Caption: President of Iran, Ebrahim Raisi. His visit to Qatar is his fourth foregin visit since becoming President in 2021 (Credit: Mehr News Agency, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons).