Tehran, Iran – Qatar’s Foreign Minister Mohammad bin Abdulrahman Al Thani has held talks with his counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian in Tehran, days before the Qatari emir is due to meet US President Joe Biden in Washington, DC.
A readout of the meeting by the Iranian foreign ministry made no mention of continuing talks in Vienna to restore Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, and said the two mainly discussed Yemen and Afghanistan.
But the sequence of events before and after the visit could indicate an apparent effort by Qatar to relay messages between Iranian and US officials.
Al Thani and Amirabdollahian held a phone call on Tuesday prior to the visit, in which they discussed bilateral and regional issues, according to both countries’ foreign ministries.
The Qatari foreign minister had spoken on the phone with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken a day earlier.
The visit also comes shortly before Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, is scheduled to visit Washington on January 31 to meet President Joe Biden at the White House.
Qatar has a history of attempting to mediate between Iran and the US in an effort to restore the nuclear deal and de-escalate regional tensions.
In a tweet following the meeting on Thursday, Amirabdollahian said history and experience have shown that American politicians cannot be trusted, so practical steps would act as the basis for any judgments.
“On the issue of lifting sanctions, Iran’s full interests need to be realised, and something tangible needs to happen on the ground,” he wrote.
The Qatari foreign minister’s trip comes as signals from Iranian officials have renewed speculation about whether Iran and the US will engage in direct negotiations in the foreseeable future.
Earlier this week, the Iranian foreign minister said Iran and the US have not negotiated directly in Vienna thus far, but suggested such a prospect may not be impossible.
“If we get to a stage where reaching a good deal with strong guarantees necessitates direct talks with the US, we will consider it,” Amirabdollahian said.
Shortly after, Iran’s security chief Ali Shamkhani said in a tweet that contact with the American delegation in Vienna has so far been through informal written exchanges and there is no need for more.
“This communication method can only be replaced by other methods when a good deal is available,” he wrote.
But on Thursday, the ultraconservative Keyhan newspaper, which had criticised such prospects, reported that Shamkhani has called the paper, saying he has always been against direct talks with the US.
The long-running talks in the Austrian capital have made considerable progress in recent weeks, according to participating delegations, but some key issues remain that require political decisions to resolve.
Western participants in the talks have warned that there are only weeks are left to rescue the accord that the US unilaterally abandoned in 2018.
Iran has since ramped up its nuclear programme. Tehran has long denied seeking nuclear weapons, saying its nuclear programme is strictly peaceful.