Diplomacy

Take a Load Off

Iranian Sanctions Relief

Earlier in 2015, world powers reached a deal with Iran over its nuclear program, which, once ratified, will have vast ramifications on the global economy. Iran has the world’s fourth-largest […]

Earlier in 2015, world powers reached a deal with Iran over its nuclear program, which, once ratified, will have vast ramifications on the global economy. Iran has the world’s fourth-largest proven oil reserves and the world’s largest natural gas reserves. However, despite these massive reserves, Iran has been unable to develop them as speedily as many of the other Gulf states due to economic sanctions. Now that Iran is on the cusp of having the sanctions removed, many possibilities have arisen for enhanced collaboration between Qatar and Iran in the fields of energy and diplomacy.

One of the key areas of opportunity for future collaboration with Iran rests with building confidence in each other’s foreign policy. One such area is the issue of Iran interfering in other country’s internal affairs. As such, the Gulf Arabs believe that Iran needs to stop its longstanding support for militant proxies including Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Yemen’s Shiite militia. On the same note, one of the most contentious issues for Qatar is Iran’s continued support for embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In this case, Iran and Qatar support competing forces with Iran being the main regional ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Qatar supporting elements of the opposing forces. Despite these differences on these key diplomatic issues, Qatar has a positive outlook on the relationship between the two countries. Over the summer, HH Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani said that, “There might be differences over some issues, but the two countries, as friends, brothers, and neighbors, should get over these obstacles,“ and followed this by describing the relations with Iran “historical and robust.“ Similarly, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that there was, “good potential for economic and political“ relations between the two countries. With this, there have been serious steps taken by Qatar and Iran to shore up ties, including a landmark visit by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to Qatar. While shoring up relations remains of critical important to Iranian-Qatari relations, economic interests may be what ultimately brings these two countries closer together.

Aside from disputes at the regional level, both Iran and Qatar stand to gain economically by continuing to strengthen business relations. The South Pars gas field is a joint gas field held between both Iran and Qatar. The field itself holds about 10% of global conventional gas reserves. Qatar has been steadily producing gas from the field almost ten 10 longer than Iran but now, with the economic sanctions being lifted, the question on everyone’s mind is can Iran become the next Qatar and how will the two countries collaborate to mutually benefit from joint production on the field? Many experts contend that Iran simply cannot be the next Qatar in terms of economic development due to the massive domestic demand in Iran compared to that of Qatar coupled with numerous production challenges associated by years of non-investment by foreign multinationals. However, Iran may serve as a key transit country for Qatari gas going to Europe. One means to accomplish this is the realization of the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline. This pipeline remains a proposed project worth about $6 billion that could allow both Iran and Qatar to export its gas directly to Europe and eliminate costly ocean transit. With this, Mohsen Jalalpour, the President of Iran Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines, and Agriculture said, “In case Iran is able to reach a deal with Qatar and Turkey over this, there will be significant profit for Iran and Turkey.“ This project may also make the Qatari proposed Qatar-Turkey pipeline, a pipeline project that would run from Qatar to Europe via Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, and Turkey, obsolete.
In sum, Qatari-Iranian foreign relations pose serious challenges but also serious opportunities. Both countries have underscored the importance for dialogue and strengthening relations. That being said, Iran and Qatar remain at odds in some of the most critical conflicts in the Middle East at present. However, through diplomatic channels and the opportunity for economic benefit, both Qatar and Iran stand to gain through collective collaboration and mutual business interests.

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