Qatari Diplomatic Overtures Rational

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-ThaniSheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman embraced the Qatari announcement of the normalization of Iran diplomatic relations as a "rational and positive" step, saying the conflict-ridden Middle East desperately needs closer bonds among regional countries.

Qatar said on Wednesday it was returning its ambassador to Tehran, nearly 20 months after it downgraded relations with Iran in a show of solidarity with Saudi Arabia.

Doha also expressed its desire to forge Tehran relations in "all fields", in a statement published on the website of the Qatari Foreign Ministry.

Qatar's top diplomat, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, spoke with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, on phone on Wednesday.

The two stressed the need for closer bilateral relations and exchanged views on regional and international developments, the Qatari ministry said.

***Super Priority

Qasemi told IRNA on Thursday forging cooperation with neighbor states is a "super priority" in Iran's foreign policy during President Hassan Rouhani's second term in office.

"Iran believes the only path toward protecting regional security and stability, and preparing the ground for economic development of the region is that regional states normalize and expand ties with one another and outside powers refrain from interfering in the Middle East affairs," he said.

Qasemi stressed that Tehran is willing to lend support to help settle differences among its neighbors, apparently referring to a political standoff pitting the peninsular emirate versus Saudi Arabia and its allies.

"Iran is ready to make political efforts to boost interaction among these states and help resolve misunderstandings and problems," he said.

The Qatari decision came as the push by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt to isolate Qatar diplomatically and economically nears its fourth month.

The bloc has made several conditions for lifting its land, air and sea blockade against Qatar, notably asking Doha to end support for groups such as Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, which they regard as terrorist, and restrict ties with Tehran.

Mediation attempts led by countries such as Kuwait and the US have so far failed to make headway toward settling the crisis.

***Megaphone Diplomacy Doomed

Qatar has described the Saudi-led push as an attack on its sovereignty and an attempt to impose guardianship on the tiny but rich kingdom.

The emirate's pivot back toward Tehran was widely interpreted as yet another sign of Qatar's determination to weather the boycott and hold its ground in the face of the Saudi megaphone diplomacy.

Qatar was among Saudi allies who followed suit to limit ties with Iran after it severed relations with Tehran in January 2016.

The decision by King Salman, who has adopted an aggressive Iran policy since taking the throne in 2015, was made using as an excuse the attacks on Saudi diplomatic premises by protesters angered over the execution of well-known dissident Shia cleric Nimr Baqer al-Nimr on terrorism charges without due process.

The decision came despite Iranian officials' condemnation of the attacks and prosecution of perpetrators.

However, Qatar's relationship with Tehran has been warmer than the more aggressive stance adopted by other Saudi allies such as the UAE and Bahrain.

Despite recalling its ambassador, Qatar maintained its economic ties with Iran, with which it shares the world's largest natural gas reservoir, called the South Pars Gas Field in Tehran and the North Field in Doha.

Analysts believe the unprecedented political crisis in the Persian Gulf has pushed Qatar closer to Tehran.

Tehran has called for dialogue between the two Arab sides to end the rift and has moved to meet Qatar's urgent needs by providing it with food and other supplies and allowing Qatari passenger planes to use air routes traversing Iran.

***Anti-Qatar Bloc Infuriated

There was no official reaction from Saudi Arabia to the Qatari announcement, but the Saudi state-run media outlets have portrayed the move as a sign that another Arab capital has been conquered by Tehran.

Riyadh accuses Iran of interfering in the Arab world and alleges that it aspires to dominate the region.

In recent years, the apparently paranoid Saudi Arabia has been trying to build a coalition to challenge what it sees Iran's growing influence in the region.

UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash reacted on Tuesday by saying Qatar was burning its bridges and prolonging the Persian Gulf crisis.

"The management of the crisis caused the burning of bridges, the squandering of sovereignty and the deepening of the Qatari crisis and undermined what remained of the mediator's chances," he wrote in a Twitter post on Thursday.

"The wisdom that we hoped for was completely absent," he added.  

In Washington, State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters on Thursday that the US remains "very deeply concerned with the status of the dispute" between Qatar and the Saudi-led bloc.

"It's gone on for far too long. It really has," AP quoted her as saying. She declined to comment on the normalization of Tehran-Doha ties.


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