Qatar's Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani will travel to Iran on Thursday to meet with President Ebrahim Raisi, according to the Iranian news agency IRNA. This trip, according to Iranian media, will be aimed at "strengthening ties" between the two countries. Also, according to IRNA, ways to release Iran's frozen assets in foreign banks due to US sanctions will be discussed during the visit of the Qatari emir.
Earlier this week, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh announced that Al-Thani would visit the country "soon". "The visit of the Emir of Qatar to Tehran is on the agenda and includes bilateral, regional and international issues. After this trip, the Iranian president will travel to a Gulf country," the Iranian spokesman said. The Qatari emir, meanwhile, after this visit to Iran, will travel to Germany, the UK and other European states with the aim of "reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal" and addressing energy security in Europe, Reuters reports.
The last time Qatar's emir travelled to Tehran was in early 2020 to try to defuse tensions between Iran and the US following the assassination of commander Qassem Soleimani. The motive for this visit is quite different, although it also seeks to bring the Iranian regime and the West closer together.
In this way, Doha is positioning itself as a mediator between Iran and the other members of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), who are seeking to reach an agreement with Tehran to limit its nuclear programme. A source told Reuters that the emir's trip was aimed at bringing the parties to the nuclear pact to a "new middle ground".
The Vienna talks are stalled because of sharp disagreements between Tehran and Washington. Iran is calling on the US to remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from the list of foreign terrorist organisations. Similarly, the Iranian regime insists that the US administration lift sanctions against the country.
In addition to these disagreements, the situation in Europe is not conducive to reaching an agreement. Recently, the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, stated that "a pause" in the Vienna talks is "necessary" due to "external factors", reports Europa Press. Russia, currently under Western sanctions for its invasion of Ukraine, is one of the negotiating nations.
Seeking to revive the nuclear deal and positioning itself as a mediator between the JCPOA parties, Qatar stands as a key Western ally in the region. To this intermediary role, Qatar's liquefied natural gas (LNG) potential as an alternative to Russian gas in Europe must be added. Al-Thani's agenda in Europe also includes the continent's energy security. In this regard, Germany, a major customer of Russia's Gazprom, has forged closer ties with Qatar in an attempt to wean itself off its dependence on Moscow. Poland is another country that has for years looked to the Gulf nation rather than to its larger neighbour to the east.
For this reason, the US designated Qatar as a "major ally" outside NATO in early February. Washington's decision comes at a time when its relations with Riyadh and Abu Dhabi are not at their best. The US has called on the Gulf oil powers to increase oil production in order to lower oil prices, but OPEC, of which Russia is also a member, has ignored Washington's calls. Furthermore, Joe Biden's administration has stopped supporting the Saudi-led coalition's offensive operations in Yemen and has imposed conditions on US arms sales to the Gulf states, which Riyadh sees as a sign of Washington's lack of interest in the region.
As relations between Riyadh and Washington cool, Doha is positioning itself as the new regional partner. This rapprochement reached its peak after the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan because of Qatar's role in the evacuations. Months later, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani and Secretary of State Antony Blinken signed strategic agreements in which Doha assumed the role of "protecting power" for US interests in Afghanistan. "Qatar is a crucial partner in promoting regional stability," said Blinken. Qatar previously played the role of mediator in talks between the US and the Taliban, which culminated in the Doha Accords signed in February 2020.
IRNA also said the upcoming visit by the Qatari emir "will follow up on recent agreements and expand bilateral ties, particularly cooperation in hosting the 2022 World Cup". These treaties were signed during Raisi's visit to Qatar last February. Doha and Tehran have agreed to cooperate on issues related to the competition to be held later this year. As Chairman of the Iran-Qatar Joint Chamber of Commerce Adnan Musapur told IRNA, Iran's private sector "is ready to offer accommodation services, supply and meet Qatar's demand during the World Cup".
Musapur also noted that both Tehran and Doha are planning to increase direct flights from several Iranian cities to Qatar during the tournament. Therefore, during Al-Thani's upcoming visit, they will review the signed agreements and try to reach "the stage of implementation and provide conditions in this field".
Raisi will receive the Qatari emir a few days after meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Tehran and Damascus are linked by their strong enmity towards Israel. Indeed, during his visit to Iran, the Syrian leader praised 'the strategic ties between Iran and Syria' as having 'prevented the Zionist regime [of Israel] from dominating the region'. Raisi, for his part, said his government's priority was to strengthen strategic ties with Syria, Tasnim news agency reports.
This was al-Assad's second visit to Iran since the Syrian civil war began in 2011. The Syrian leader last visited Tehran in February 2019.