Qatar’s army and navy have grown rapidly as the country spends billions of dollars to protect itself.
Qatar is urging Gulf nations to enter into a dialogue with Iran and has offered to broker negotiations after a three-year blockade on Doha was recently removed by its Arab neighbours.
Qatar, which shares a major gas field with Iran, has for years called on Gulf Arab states to enter talks with Iran, which they accuse of fomenting unrest in the Middle East, accusations Tehran denies.
Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani told Bloomberg TV in an interview broadcast on Monday that his government is “hopeful that this would happen”.
“We still believe this should happen. This is also a desire that’s shared by other GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] countries [for talks with Iran],” Sheikh Mohammed said.
Iran’s arch-rival Saudi Arabia has not publicly indicated any willingness to engage with Iran.
Instead Saudi Arabia insisted this month’s rapprochement with Qatar meant the Gulf family would be better able to combat “the threats posed by the Iranian regime’s nuclear and ballistic missile programme”.
Commenting separately on potential US-Iran negotiations now that the Trump administration is on its way out, Doha’s foreign minister said Qatar would facilitate those discussions if asked and support whoever is chosen to do so.
“We want the accomplishment, we want to see the deal happening,” he said of potential talks between Washington and Tehran. “Wherever it is, whoever it is conducting this negotiation, we will support them.”
New US diplomacy
The comments come a day before President-elect Joe Biden is to be sworn in at the White House replacing President Donald Trump. The newly elected leader already promised to return to the negotiating table with Iran, marking a change of tone in US diplomacy in the region.
On Monday Biden nominated longtime diplomat Wendy Sherman, a key negotiator of the Iran nuclear agreement, to be the next deputy secretary of state, the second-highest position at the Department of State.
World powers signed a landmark nuclear accord with Iran in 2015, which outlined a curb on Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.
However, Iran’s economy has suffered badly from crippling economic sanctions as part of a “maximum pressure” campaign imposed by the US since Trump pulled out of the agreement in 2018.
Since then, tensions between the two countries have increased amid a torrent of hostile rhetoric and military action.
The call for dialogue by Qatar’s foreign minister comes as Doha enters a rapprochement with its neighbouring Arab countries after resolving a three-year diplomatic standoff earlier this month.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, and Egypt severed economic and diplomatic ties with Qatar in 2017 and imposed a land, sea, and air blockade, accusing Doha of supporting “terrorism” and being too close to Iran.
Qatar repeatedly denied the claims and said there was no justification for severing relations. Borders have now reopened, embassies will soon be re-established, and families separated by the blockade are being reunited.
The first direct flights between Qatar and Egypt and the UAE took to the skies on Monday.
Sheikh Mohammed also told Bloomberg his government was supporting ongoing discussions between Iran and South Korea to secure the release of an oil tanker seized by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps early this month.