Qatar calls for ‘serious dialogue’ with Iran after nuclear deal

August 8, 2015

Qatar’s top diplomat on Tuesday called for a “serious dialogue” with Iran in the wake of its nuclear deal with world powers, even as he criticized Tehran for continuing to support Syria’s embattled government.

Foreign Minister Khalid al-Attiyah made the comments in a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press that also touched on allegations of Doha’s links to Islamic militant groups.

Al-Attiyah spoke from a skyscraper office overlooking the rapidly developing Qatari capital, Doha, a day after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with the six-member (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council in Qatar.

The Persian Gulf states have welcomed the deal.

Al-Attiyah said a “firm agreement between the major players and Iran” was the best way to resolve the nuclear issue. And he suggested there was now scope to work with Iran on other topics too.

“We should have a serious dialogue with our neighbor, the Iranians, and ... lay down our concerns from both sides, and solve them together. Iran is our neighbor in the region,” he said.

Qatar is an important U.S. ally in the Persian Gulf, hosting American bombers, support aircraft and the forward headquarters for U.S. Central Command at its vast al-Udeid air base.

It also splits control of a vast underwater natural gas field with Iran, a fellow OPEC member. It has long positioned itself as a venue for mediating thorny regional conflicts, and it last week hosted a visit from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who has made outreach to his Arab neighbors a priority.

Al-Attiyah cautioned that there are still major areas of disagreement.

More work must be done to build confidence on both sides, including on the issue of “interfering in other countries’ internal affairs,” he said.

“We are all in the GCC working toward a good neighborhood. We want also Iran to take this approach as well, and only then we can have a fruitful dialogue,” al-Attiyah said.

One major area of disagreement remains Iran’s support for embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad, who remains in power after more than four years of civil war that has left at least 250,000 Syrians dead, according to UN figures.

“We wish that Iran looked at Syria through the (eyes of the) Syrian people and not through the brutal regime,” al-Attiyah said.

Qatar, like other Persian Gulf states, supports the mostly Sunni rebel movement fighting to topple Assad.

It denies backing extremist groups, including the Islamic State group, and the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front fighting Assad’s forces in Syria.

Nonetheless, Qatar has helped secure the release of hostages held by Syrian rebels, including a group of Greek Orthodox nuns and American journalist Peter Theo Curtis held by the Nusra Front last year.

In the interview with the AP, al-Attiyah said those negotiations happened with the help of intermediaries in Syria. He denied that his country was in direct contact with the al-Qaeda-linked group, and expressed hope that the Nusra Front will drop its ties to al-Qaeda.

“All these rumors against Qatar defending the extremists or supporting the extremists in Syria (have) no truth,” al-Attiyah said.

Qatar takes a different stance, however, when it comes to the Palestinian group Hamas, which is considered to be a terrorist organization by Israel and several other countries, including the U.S.

Qatar is a key financial patron to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and since 2012 is home to exiled Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal. While Doha insists its support is for the Gazan people and not Hamas, al-Attiyah made a point Tuesday of saying Qatar does not consider Hamas to be an extremist group but “a movement of liberation.”

Qatar in recent years has also accepted members of the Taliban, including five detainees released from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as part of an exchange for captive U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl last year.

They remain in Qatar after a May 2014 deal to keep them in the country for a year expired while they wait for documentation that would allow them to leave, al-Attiyah said. He said Qatar “would rather see them go to their children, to their family.”


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Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid al-Attiyah talks to the Associated Press during an exclusive interview at the Ministry of foreign affairs, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015, in Doha, Qatar.