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Beginning May 12, Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani visited Iran, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. He then moved on to a diplomatic tour of European countries. There are many motivations behind Qatar’s prominent role in global security diplomacy, namely bolstering regional relations, stabilizing global energy markets, securing greater energy cooperation with Europe, and helping to rescue the anemic Iran nuclear deal. The emir’s delegation has included Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, Chief of the Amiri Diwan Saoud bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, Minister of Finance Ali bin Ahmed Al Kuwari, Minister of State for Energy Affairs Saad Sherida al-Kaabi, and Minister of Commerce and Industry Mohammed bin Hamad bin Qassim al-Abdullah al-Thani.
Qatar Seeks to Help Salvage the Iran Nuclear Deal
Tamim visited Tehran May 12, just months after he met with Raisi during the Iranian president’s trip to Doha to attend the Gas Exporting Countries Forum. During the February meeting, the leaders of the two countries signed 14 agreements in the fields of trade, tourism, youth and sports, energy, education, culture, media, and maritime cooperation. The emir’s visit to Tehran seemingly aimed to follow up on many of these agreements. Ahead of Tamim’s recent visit, the Political Consultation Committee between Iran and Qatar held its first meeting in Tehran to discuss ways to enhance the bilateral relationship. During Tamim’s visit, the Iranians emphasized bilateral and regional relations in discussions with the emir, including the importance of increasing Iran-Qatar economic relations and opposing Israel’s actions in the region.
The Qatari emir’s visit to Tehran overlapped with the visit of the European Union coordinator for the Iran nuclear talks, Enrique Mora. The EU is seeking to mediate between the United States and Iran to salvage the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action after more than a year of negotiations in Vienna. Regional actors with good relations with both the United States and Iran, like Qatar, are seeking to assist EU mediation efforts by facilitating the indirect communication between the two sides and, according to Iranian officials quoted in the media, offering support on some key issues, such as prisoner exchanges and unfreezing some Iranian assets, which could help build trust between the two sides and encourage a final agreement.
The day after these meetings in Tehran, Qatar’s foreign minister had a call with U.S. Special Representative for Iran Robert Malley and a call with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan to discuss regional issues as well as the latest developments on the Iran nuclear deal. Mohammed bin Abdulrahman also had a call May 16 with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken regarding the nuclear talks.
The Qatar-Turkey Partnership Amid Regional Rapprochement Efforts
After Iran, the Qatari delegation traveled to Turkey, where Tamim met with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey is one of Qatar’s most important partners in the region, and the two countries’ shared interests, evident for more than a decade, came even more sharply into view during the boycott of Qatar, which ended in January 2021 with the signing of a reconciliation agreement at the Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Al Ula.
Their ties are strongly rooted in defense and military cooperation and economic relations. A major cooperation mechanism is the Turkey-Qatar Supreme Strategic Committee, which has met seven times since it was set up in 2014. Also that year, Turkey established a military base in Qatar, which has expanded into an outpost that can house up to 5,000 Turkish troops. Qatar-Turkey ties continued to strengthen after the boycott of Qatar began in June 2017. Qatar has also played a major role in bolstering the struggling Turkish economy. For example, in December 2021, during Erdogan’s visit to Doha, Qatar agreed to extend a $15 billion currency swap deal to help stabilize the weakening lira and increase Turkey’s foreign reserves. Erdogan underlined the importance of the security and economic relationship, saying, “We do not separate the security and stability of Qatar from that of our own country,” adding that Qatar supports “Turkey’s investment, employment, production and export-oriented growth.” During Tamim’s recent visit to Turkey, Turkish media noted a desire from Turkish officials to increase bilateral trade to $5 billion and expand defense cooperation.
Turkey’s efforts toward rapprochement with Saudi Arabia and the UAE are in full swing with recent visits to both Gulf states by Erdogan. These visits, while heavy on symbolism at this stage, mark a major shift in Turkey’s relations with these GCC countries. Facing an economic crisis and an upcoming presidential election, Erdogan is looking to secure greater investment and financial support from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Here, Turkey’s and Qatar’s regional strategies align as both are seeking to improve their bilateral ties with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, albeit for somewhat different reasons.
While the relationship between Qatar and Turkey helps both parties address bilateral issues, the relationship is also important in terms of coordination on a number of regional security questions. Qatar and Turkey are in close coordination on the Palestinian issue, the Horn of Africa, Libya, Syria, and Afghanistan, especially regarding the reopening of Kabul’s international airport.
Qatar-UAE Relations and the Implications for Intra-GCC Cooperation
Qatar-UAE relations have been slow to develop since the ending of the boycott in January 2021. Saudi Arabia and Egypt both named ambassadors and reopened their embassies in Doha in 2021 and are exploring greater economic and political relations. For example, Saudi Arabia and Qatar set up a joint business council to facilitate investments, and Qatar pledged $5 billon in investments in Egypt, at the same time that Saudi Arabia and UAE offered similar financial support.
Meanwhile, the UAE Embassy is still closed, and there is no Emirati ambassador in Doha. Al Jazeera is still blocked in the UAE, while it was allowed to broadcast again in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Saudi Arabia also lifted the ban on Qatar’s beIN sports broadcaster. And while UAE-Qatar flights resumed in early 2021, the number of flights is nowhere close to pre-boycott levels. This slower trajectory in Qatar’s relations with the UAE (as with Bahrain) reflects an approach that has to date prioritized improving relations with Riyadh and Cairo.
But Tamim’s visit to Abu Dhabi points to an increase in contacts already underway. High-level diplomatic visits between Qatar and the UAE have taken place over the last year. Emirati National Security Advisor Tahnoun bin Zayed al-Nahyan met with Tamim in August 2021 in Doha. Qatar’s minister of foreign affairs visited Abu Dhabi and met with then-Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan in October 2021. And Tamim and Mohammed bin Zayed met briefly at the Beijing Olympics in February.
A big test for Qatar-UAE relations will be the extent of coordination and cooperation between the two countries in hosting the 1.5 million tourists set to arrive in the Gulf for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. There is much potential for cooperation in tourism, travel logistics, and other areas for the Gulf states, especially as many of these attendees will be eager to visit Dubai, the Gulf’s major tourist hub.
Qatar-Europe Energy Cooperation Amid the Ukraine Crisis
The effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on energy markets also weigh heavily on regional and international developments. Western countries are seeking to reduce their dependence on Russian gas; EU countries, which relied on Russia for 45% of their gas imports in 2021, are particularly looking for an alternative gas source. As European countries look for gas elsewhere, Qatar’s huge investment in expanding its liquefied natural gas seems to be paying off.
The emir’s European tour has been focused heavily on developing bilateral ties and investing in necessary LNG infrastructure. So far, he has visited Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum, as well as Slovenia, Spain, and Germany. Further visits are planned for France and the United Kingdom. These visits will help Qatar’s entry into European markets in the longer term. Germany’s minister of economy, Robert Habeck, accompanied by a business delegation, visited Doha in March to explore alternative LNG supplies in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the freezing of most Russian-German economic relations, and the rescinding of approval for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. However, some complications in the discussions between Qatar and Germany were reported, notably the issue of establishing short-term versus long-term contracts. This has been a key point of contention for Qatar regarding supplying LNG to European countries, which operate in different regulatory environments and prefer short-term contracts (while Qatar’s customers in Asia, where most of its supply is currently heading, accept longer-term contracts). However, even with these complications, Qatar’s discussions with European countries regarding LNG supplies have been nonstop since Russia launched its attack on Ukraine. Some reports indicate that Qatar could be exporting LNG to new European customers, including Germany, by 2024. Beyond LNG and energy diplomacy, Tamim has also announced plans for Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund to invest $5 billion in Spanish companies.
As the West moves away from Russian gas, Qatar stands to see huge financial benefits. Even before Russia’s invasion and the spike in global energy prices, Qatar announced in February 2021 one of the largest LNG joint investment projects on record, North Field East, which is estimated at $28.7 billion and expected to increase Qatar’s LNG output by 40% annually. On this project, Qatar Petroleum (now Qatar Energy) offered a contract for onshore “engineering, procurement, construction, and commissioning” to Japanese engineering firm Chiyoda and TechnipFMC (headquartered in Texas, London, and Paris). Global energy giants, such as ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Total, and ConocoPhillips, are among some of the traditional investors in Qatar’s LNG projects. At the Gas Exporting Countries Forum meeting in Doha, Tamim announced that Qatar’s LNG production capacity will rise from 77 million tons a year to 126 million tons a year by 2027. Some reports suggest Qatar is looking for even more international investors to expand the project further amid rising global demand for gas.
Traditional and Emerging Priorities
Qatar’s relations with diverse actors, including the Taliban, the United States, Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, have positioned it as an important conduit and mediator. The emir’s tour reflects both traditional and emerging priorities in Qatari foreign policy. As Qatar pursues priorities like expanding dialogue and relations with Iran, strengthening ties with its Gulf neighbors, and increasing its presence in the European gas market, it also maintains a focus on shoring up its longtime partnerships with Turkey, the United States, and the EU. These strategies are pursued in different ways by many of the Gulf Arab states and demonstrate their growing role in the global security landscape.
is the senior Gulf analyst at International Crisis Group and a non-resident fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.
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