By Mohammad Mazhari

Iran showed Doha its respect for Qatar’s sovereignty: GSA chief

March 1, 2022 - 9:3
‘Doha and Muscat find the other’s efforts to ease friction between Iran and the U.S. as useful’

 TEHRAN - Giorgio Cafiero, chief executive officer of Gulf State Analytics (GSA), says Iran showed it cares about Qatar’s sovereignty.

“The Emirati- and Saudi-led blockade of Qatar, which lasted from mid-2017 until early 2021, had a huge impact on Doha’s relationship with Iran,” Cafiero tells the Tehran Times.

 “By helping Qatar weather the siege, Iran demonstrated to Doha that it respected Qatar’s sovereignty and was willing to assist the gas-rich Persian Gulf country amid a time of crisis manufactured by Qatar’s immediate neighbors on the Arabian Peninsula.”

On February 21, Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi made a two-day trip to Doha to hold high-level talks with the Qatari Emir, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and to participate in the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF).

“Kuwait has demonstrated how it is not making decisions based on Riyadh’s orders.”Raisi was accompanied by several ministers who signed several agreements aimed at boosting ties between the two countries.

Despite the significance of the visit on the eve of an imminent nuclear agreement in Vienna, some commentators prefer to cast a light on Iran-Qatar’s ties that have improved since 2017.

 “The strengthening of relations between Doha and Tehran that took place between 2017 and 2021 has influenced bilateral relations in ways that will likely outlive the blockade period for a very long time,” Cafiero notes.

“President Raisi’s visit to Doha this month underscores how these two Persian Gulf states are determined to continue deepening ties and expanding cooperation.”

Following is the text of the interview:

Q: How do you read President Raisi’s visit to Qatar in light of the imminent agreement on the revival of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal?

 A: For years, the Qataris have sought to prevent tensions over Iran’s nuclear program from resulting in an armed conflict in the Persian Gulf. Such a nightmarish scenario, if it would ever unfold, would have devastating impacts on Qatar’s vital national interests. Highly dependent on the Strait of Hormuz for its exports and sharing with Iran ownership over the world’s largest natural gas field, Doha would lose a lot economically and in terms of security if the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program would lead to any war in the Persian Gulf. Therefore, it is pragmatic for Doha to do whatever it can to prevent such an outcome.

Qatar’s stance is that there are no realistic or viable ways to peacefully resolve this issue aside from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Back in May 2018, when the Trump administration decided to trash the accord by pulling the U.S. out of the deal unilaterally, Qatar—along with Oman and Kuwait—did not join the three other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members—Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—in welcoming the move. On the contrary, the Qatari view was that this move boded very negatively from the standpoint of Doha’s own interests and regional security. Today, Qatari officials are trying to play their diplomatic cards to help with the delicate process of salvaging the JCPOA. To be sure, Raisi’s visit to Doha and the Qatari head of state’s recent visit to Washington all factor into Doha’s diplomatic strategies for helping the P5+1 and Iran settle remaining issues that stand in the way of a revived JCPOA.

Q: Do you think Doha is seeking to replace Muscat in mediating between Iran and the U.S.?

A: No, I do not. Doha and Muscat find the other’s efforts to ease friction between Iran and the U.S. as useful. Their diplomatic moves to bring about this outcome complement each other. This is understandable given that Qatar and Oman share interests in the JCPOA being reconstituted as well as temperatures lowering in relations between Tehran and Washington. As two GCC states which maintain good relations with both the U.S. and Iran, Qatar and Oman share concerns about the potential outcomes of tensions between Washington and Tehran spiraling out of control. Therefore, any Qatari success on this front bodes well for Oman’s national interests and vice versa.
 
Q: What are the lessons of the 2017-2021 siege on Doha and Iran’s role in giving Qatar’s economy breathing space?

A: The Emirati- and Saudi-led blockade of Qatar, which lasted from mid-2017 until early 2021, had a huge impact on Doha’s relationship with Iran. By helping Qatar weather the siege, Iran demonstrated to Doha that it respected Qatar’s sovereignty and was willing to assist the gas-rich Persian Gulf country amid a time of crisis manufactured by Qatar’s immediate neighbors on the Arabian Peninsula. The strengthening of relations between Doha and Tehran that took place between 2017 and 2021 has influenced bilateral relations in ways that will likely outlive the blockade period for a very long time. President Raisi’s visit to Doha this month underscores how these two Persian Gulf states are determined to continue deepening ties and expanding cooperation. The Qataris are not naïve and they realize that a third GCC crisis could happen down the line and under such circumstances, close ties to Iran will again be important to Doha.

By the same token, Doha and Tehran are not on the same page when it comes to every regional and international issue. Qatar and Iran have fundamentally different stances on questions concerning the Syrian government, certain armed groups in Iraq, as well as opposing views of the role that the U.S. military plays in the Persian Gulf. Yet the governments of Qatar and Iran have been able to work together in ways that are mutually beneficial notwithstanding some sensitive issues that pit their interests against each other.
 
Q: To what extent can countries like Qatar, Oman, and Kuwait act independently from Riyadh’s regional policies?

A: There are countless instances of Qatar, Oman, and Kuwait acting independently of Saudi foreign policy. The same can be said about the United Arab Emirates too. Although Riyadh has influence over the smaller GCC states and the Saudis play a leadership role within this sub-regional organization, there is no doubt about the fact that Doha, Muscat, and Kuwait City are comfortable pursuing their own interests which do not always align with Riyadh’s interests.

Qatar’s willingness to engage with anti-status quo actors in the Arab region like the Muslim Brotherhood throughout the post-2011 period has highlighted Qatar’s tendency to break from the ‘Saudi consensus’ which itself was a major dynamic contributing to the two GCC crises of 2014 and 2017-2021. Oman’s cordial relationship with Iran, unwillingness to join the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen, and refusal to support regime change efforts in Damascus are illustrative of the Sultanate’s independence from Saudi Arabia. Kuwait’s democratic institutions and tradition of neutrality in many of the Middle East’s (West Asia) conflicts and disputes (such as the 2017-2021 GCC crisis) demonstrate how the country is not making decisions based on Riyadh’s orders, but instead pursues an independent foreign policy aimed at advancing Kuwait’s own national interests.

Leave a Comment

5 + 12 =