Qatari foreign minister travels to Iran

Qatari Foreign Minister Abdulrahman Al-Thani has met with his Iranian counterpart shortly after Tehran declared its readiness for talks with Washington if it feels it can reach a "good nuclear deal"

AFP/KARIM JAAFAR  -   Qatar's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, who is also the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Qatar.

Just days before Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Zani is due to travel to Washington D.C. to meet US President Joe Biden, the foreign ministers of Doha and Tehran met in the Iranian capital to bring their positions closer together. According to INRA, the Islamic Republic of Iran's state news agency, the purpose of the meeting was to boost bilateral relations between the two powers in the face of recent regional developments, and is intended to serve as a mechanism to contribute to stability and peace in the region.  

In the context of the renegotiations of the 2015 Nuclear Pact and the tightening of US conditions for the resumption of the agreement, the timing of these meetings is crucial.  

On the one hand, Hosein Amir Abdolahian and Mohamad bin Abdulrahman Al Thani - Iranian and Qatari foreign ministers, respectively - met in the Persian capital just days after officials in Tehran said they were prepared to consider further direct talks with US representatives, but only if they felt they could achieve a "good nuclear deal".  

AFP -  Mapa de Irán que muestra las principales instalaciones nucleares 
AFP - Map of Iran showing major nuclear facilities

"If we reach a stage where reaching a good deal with strong guarantees requires direct talks with the United States, we will consider it," Iranian minister Abdolahian said. 

On the other hand, the meetings and telephone interviews held so far between Doha and Tehran have been the subject of various rumours. Reuters news agency reported that, according to a source close to the ministers' entourage, Abdolahian asked Qatar to mediate in the process of releasing US and European citizens imprisoned on Iranian territory. This seems to have become a new tacit condition for the resumption of dialogue between Tehran and the Biden administration. However, other media - such as the Iranian news agency - argue that this latest visit was not intended to facilitate direct talks with the White House, but rather to discuss other conflicts, including Yemen and Afghanistan. 

"Although Doha and Tehran are having good and close relations, this visit has fuelled some misconceptions," IRNA reported.  

AFP PHOTO / HO / LEADER.IR - Una foto de la oficina del líder Supremo de Irán, el Ayatolá Alí Jomenei, en una reunión con el Emir de Qatar, el Jeque Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, en la capital iraní, Teherán, el 12 de enero de 2020 
AFP PHOTO / HO / LEADER.IR - A picture of the office of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khomenei in a meeting with the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani in the Iranian capital Tehran on January 12, 2020.

However, Qatar's historical track record as a mediator in the Iranian-US conflict over the 2015 Nuclear Pact, and in light of recent developments, all indications are that the Qatari authorities are making great efforts to transfer messages from the government in Tehran to Washington, and vice versa. In this way, the Qatari strategy could position Doha as a new key power in the nuclear conflict, as well as in the Vienna talks to end the escalation of tensions.  

A stalemate?   

Since the resumption of nuclear negotiations between the new government of Ebrahim Raisi - the main representative of the regime's most hardline faction - and the signatories of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) last November, the positions on the progress made have been very different.  

At the end of 2021, several European and US representatives described the new Persian presidency's position as 'inconsistent'. Tehran, meanwhile, claimed to be moving "slowly and steadily" towards a new agreement, despite rejecting Washington's demands for the release of four US citizens.  

PHOTO/ Delegación de la UE en Viena/EEAS/Handout via REUTERS  -  El secretario general adjunto del Servicio Europeo de Acción Exterior (SEAE), Enrique Mora, y el negociador nuclear jefe de Irán, Ali Bagheri Kani, y las delegaciones esperan el inicio de una reunión de la Comisión Conjunta del JCPOA en Viena, Austria, el 17 de diciembre de 2021 
PHOTO/ Delegación de la UE en Viena/EEAS/Handout via REUTERS - European External Action Service (EEAS) Deputy Secretary General Enrique Mora and Iran's Chief Nuclear Negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani and delegations await the start of a meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission in Vienna, Austria, on 17 December 2021.

So far, there have been eight negotiations without the US presence. Eight rounds of talks in which Persian and American negotiators have talked indirectly to re-establish the 2015 nuclear deal, which broke down after Washington's unilateral abandonment and Iran's violations of atomic restrictions.  

And yet now, while the meetings in Vienna, Iranian statements about a possible meeting with the US and alleged Qatari mediations could represent steps forward in these negotiations, there are still several issues that remain to be finalised before all original JCPOA parties return to the pact. Limits on Tehran's atomic work, as well as assurances on the end of punitive measures, still keep gaps open between Iran, Germany, Russia, China, France, the UK and the US.