Doha offers Iran a bridge to West

03 February 2010

Balancing the competing demands of Washington and Tehran could be Qatar’s trickiest diplomatic task yet

Qatar’s diplomatic relationship with Iran sets it apart from its neighbours. While most Gulf states keep Iran at a distance, Doha often appears keen to close the gap.

While Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE have all expressed concern over Iran’s nuclear programme, Qatar has spoken out in favour of Tehran’s right to develop nuclear technology.

Last month Ibrahim al-Muqaisib, Qatar’s ambassador to Tehran, told President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that Doha was “determined to improve the level of economic and cultural relations…to a level to match our countries’ excellent political relations.”

Recent discussions about cutting customs tariffs between the two countries could be followed by Qatari investments in Iran’s banking, telecoms, tourism and steel sectors.

This relationship is a useful diplomatic bridge between Iran and the Gulf states and, potentially, the West, too.

But it is not without risks. Qatar hosts US military base at Al-Udeid and it could find itself in an increasingly difficult position of trying to keep both sides happy as the hostile US-Iran relationship sours further.

Qatar’s diplomatic agility has been one of its great strengths in recent years, as it has tried to broker peace deals between warring factions in Lebanon, Sudan and Yemen. Trying to balance the competing demands of Washington and Tehran could be the trickiest diplomatic task it has yet taken on.

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