DOHA (Dispatches) -- Qatar has called for Persian Gulf Arab countries to hold talks with Iran, the foreign minister said in an interview aired on Tuesday, after Doha reconciled with its neighbors after a three-year blockade.
Foreign Minister Sheikh Muhammad bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, who has previously called for dialogue with Iran, told Bloomberg TV he was "hopeful that this would happen and we still believe this should happen”.
"This is also a desire that’s shared by other (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries,” he said.
It comes weeks after Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt re-established ties with Qatar after breaking them off in June 2017, imposing a land and air blockade partly over allegations that Qatar was too close to Iran.
Qatar and Iran share one of the world’s largest gas fields and Doha maintains cordial relations with Tehran.
Saudi Arabia has not publicly indicated any willingness to engage with Iran.
Instead Riyadh insisted that this month’s rapprochement with Qatar meant the Persian Gulf family would be better able to combat what he claimed as threats posed by Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile program.
Last week, UAE, Bahraini and Israeli ambassadors to the United States said their regimes should be part of any potential negotiations between the incoming American administration and Iran on a new nuclear deal.
Yousef al-Otaiba, Shaikh Abdulla bin Rashid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa and Ron Dermer, the ambassadors of the UAE, Bahrain and the occupying regime of Israel to the U.S. held a virtual discussion hosted by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a Washington-based policy institute.
They claimed that the incoming U.S. administration would have "a lot of leverage” over Tehran and should not squander that by simply returning to the 2015 nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Otaiba claimed that "the voices of the region” had not been represented at the negotiations
that produced the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
"There is a lot of leverage that the U.S. has over Iran right now. One of the things we should seriously consider doing is look at a bigger and better JCPOA 2.0, one that addresses the shortcomings of JCPOA 1.0,” the UAE ambassador said.
Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, withdrew the U.S. in May 2018 from the JCPOA and reimposed the sanctions that the deal had lifted on Iran.
The fate of the agreement is now hanging in the balance, with Iran having scaled down its compliance with the agreement in response to the U.S. pullout and the Europeans’ failure to support the Islamic Republic.
Bahrain’s ambassador said his country supported Trump’s decision to leave the JCPOA, adding "any return to the JCPOA should take into consideration the concerns of Iran’s neighbors, including the Persian Gulf and Israel”.
"Israel and the Arab states are on the same page … when it comes to Iran,” his Israeli counterpart said.
Tehran has already clarified to the Persian Gulf states that it will not negotiate regional issues with the West, but it stands ready to hold talks with its neighbors directly and without any foreign interference.
Iran has put forward an initiative called the Hormuz Peace Endeavor (HOPE) to promote security in the Persian Gulf and facilitate such neighborly negotiations.
Saudi Arabia’s image has been battered by the 2018 murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of agents seen as close to Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman.
The kingdom’s de facto ruler knows "a new era has started” without the buffer granted by Trump, a Western diplomat in the region told Reuters.
President-elect Joe Biden, who is expected to re-engage with Iran, has said he would take a firmer stand on Saudi’s human rights record and the Yemen war.
Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan told CNBC in November that Riyadh wants to partner with the Biden administration on a potential new nuclear pact which he said could be labeled "JCPOA++”, to include Iran’s ballistic missiles and what he called "malign activity”.
Another foreign diplomat said Riyadh’s nervousness over Biden’s Iran policy was one reason it lobbied the Trump administration to blacklist Yemen’s Houthi movement, which has launched cross-border retaliatory attacks on Saudi Arabia.
UN officials warned that the designation, which takes effect on Jan. 19, may push Yemen into a large-scale famine and urged Biden to revoke it.
Saudi Arabia and its Persian Gulf allies supported Trump’s maximum pressure campaign on Tehran and hailed his decision in 2018 to quit the international nuclear deal.
"The Qatar deal is a way to have the Persian Gulf states aligned with Israel to oppose the nuclear deal in particular and Iran in general,” the Western diplomat said.