Qatar and other countries have been talking to both Iran and the United States about de-escalation, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said on Sunday, urging both sides to meet and find a compromise.
“We believe that at one point there should an engagement – it cannot last forever like this,” he told reporters in London on Sunday.
“Since they are not willing to engage in further escalation, they should come up with ideas that open the doors.”
Sheikh Mohammed said several countries including Qatar, Oman Iraq and Japan had been urging de-escalation with the two sides.
“All these countries are concerned what escalation could lead to,” he said.
“There were attempts by Qatar and by other countries in the region to de-escalate the situation: we have been speaking to the U.S. and we have been talking to the Iranians as well.”
“What we are trying to do is really to bridge the gap and create a conversation between the two parties as escalation is not going to benefit anyone in the region,” he said.
There was much fanfare as a few dozen people, including members of Congress and U.S. administration officials, gathered last week for dinner in a posh Washington neighborhood in honor of Qatar’s foreign minister.
In the past Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin sat next to the minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani and has stated that “You have been a great friend to the United States,” praising Qatar for its cooperation on counter-terrorism financing efforts.
“When the blockade happened they (Qatar) had no presence on the Hill,” said Joey Allaham, a former adviser to Qatar who was paid $1.45 million, including costs, for his advocacy work.
A year later the boycott remains in force, as the rivals have failed to resolve their dispute. But Qatar has managed to persuade certain lawmakers and influential Americans that it is a U.S. ally in the fight against terrorism and victim of an unfair boycott, interviews with advisers on both sides show.
Several Qatari lobbyists said the aggressive strategy, which has cost the small OPEC member tens of millions of dollars, has been about reaching people close to Trump as well as lobbying on Capitol Hill.
The country has also hired some people seen as close to Trump, pledged billions of dollars in U.S. investments or business and sponsored Doha visits, according to its advisers and public filings.
Qatar is one of the smallest countries in the Middle East but it is also one of the richest. Exports of natural gas to countries as diverse as Britain and China have brought a massive increase in revenue over the last 20 years.
Qatar has some 865tn cubic feet of proven gas reserves and is the world’s largest exporter, with more than 27 per cent of the global liquefied natural gas market.
Over the past year, Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, has been driven closer to Iran by a blockade imposed by four countries led by Saudi Arabia amid claims that Doha was sponsoring terrorism.
The measures taken by the coalition — including the closure of the land border between Qatar and Saudi Arabia and the shutting of air space to Qatari planes — were designed to force Doha to break its links with Tehran, but have had the opposite effect.
Trade between the two has grown rapidly and the route between the Iranian port of Bushehr and Qatar has kept supplies of food and other key materials flowing.
Qatar has also used (at a price) Iranian airspace for passenger flights.
The result has become a stand-off and a further embarrassment for the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, who initiated the blockade. Now, however, the US action against Iran is complicating the situation.
Qatar is home to a major US air base and 10,000 US servicemen at Al Udeid. But it is also dependent on Iran not just to help break the blockade but also as co-owner of the North Field/South Pars gasfield.
Which holds reserves of some 1,800 tcf of natural gas and 50bn barrels of gas condensates. Around two-thirds of those reserves are in Qatari waters; the rest belong to Iran.
If the US lives up to its rhetoric of the last few months and escalates its attacks on Iran, Doha will have to decide whose side it is on.
The logical first step for the US must be to force the Saudis to end the blockade.
But even then it is not clear that the Qataris would be willing to play any active role against Tehran.
The Qatari defence minister, Khalid Al Attiyah, has said that his country will not take part in action against Iran, and the head of Qatari airlines has confirmed that his planes will continue to fly to the country.
Doha must be well aware of the risks of Iranian retaliation if it joins the US campaign against it.
Old disputes about the division and development of the North Field/South Pars reserves could be reopened.
Future development could be blocked, hindering Qatar from reaching its target of increasing gas export capacity by a third.
In extreme circumstances, Iran could block current development of the field and interfere with Qatar’s existing LNG exports.
Over the past few weeks, the US has talked up its determination to put Iran under “intense pressure”.
Qatar is not the primary target of American action but it could be an early victim if it does not give full-hearted support.