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Friday, February 26, 2021

Emir offers to host ‘meaningful dialogue’ to ease Arab-Iranian tensions

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Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani addresses the UN General Assembly yesterday.
Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani addresses the UN General Assembly yesterday.

It’s time for the Gulf states and Iran – countries “that will always remain neighbors” – to resolve their differences, Qatar’s Emir has told the United Nations General Assembly.

During his address yesterday, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani said Qatar is willing to host “meaningful dialogue” between the two sides, which have verbally sparred in recent months over the conflict in Yemen and who is responsible for last week’s deadly Hajj stampede.

Qatar’s Emir also tackled the issue of terrorism, addressing what he said were some of the root causes. Echoing remarks he made in a New York Times opinion piece earlier this year, Sheikh Tamim said:

“Terrorism does not emerge in an atmosphere of policies that guarantee living in dignity and freedom for the citizens, but it arises in the shadow of tyranny, feeds on the oppression and humiliation, builds up grudge and hatred due to torture in prisons, and took advantage of the loss of hope of peaceful political action,” he said, later adding, “there is no faith that preaches terrorism.”

He added that the term “terrorist” appears to be reserved for armed militias that lack the backing of major regional powers.

Sunni vs. Shia

Qatar’s Emir also rejected the commonly cited explanation that tensions in the region stem from a conflict between Islam’s two main branches.

“The existing disputes in my opinion, are political regional Arab-Iranian differences, rather than being a Sunni-Shia dispute,” Sheikh Tamim said.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Like Qatar’s Emir, some foreign policy analysts have argued that confrontations in the region are not simply about Sunnis vs. Shias.

F. Gregory Gause III, a senior fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, suggested in a paper last year that Iran and Saudi Arabia are locked in a “new Middle East Cold War” in which both regional powers are competing for influence in weakly governed states such as Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

Earlier this year, Qatar joined a Saudi-led military offensive against Houthi rebels in Yemen, which some analysts consider “Iranian proxies” that threaten to give the Persian state a foothold in the Arabian Peninsula.

Sheikh Tamim said Iran and the Gulf states must agree not to interfere in each other’s internal affairs and, without naming Tehran, called for militias fighting in Yemen and Iraq to be disbanded.

Qatar itself has previously come under criticism for allegedly funding armed groups in the region. However, senior government officials have denied such charges and maintained that Qatar does not support extremist organizations in any way.

‘No disputes’

During yesterday’s opening of the UN General Assembly, during which dozens of world leaders address delegates, Sheikh Tamim said there are no disputes between Doha and Tehran.

“Bilateral relations between Qatar and Iran are growing and evolving steadily on the basis of common interests and good neighborliness,” he said.

Qatari citizens haven’t always felt that way. In a 2011 survey administered by Qatar University’s Social And Economic Survey Research Institute, 57 percent of Qataris said they believed that Iran posed the greatest threat to the GCC.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

By comparison, the second most frequent answer – Israel – received 14 percent of responses.

While the two countries have worked together in recent years to develop joint oil and natural gas fields in the Gulf, tensions persist.

Last year, Iranian hackers reportedly infiltrated Qatar’s government networks, airlines and oil and gas firms as part of a two-year campaign targeting critical infrastructure around the world.

During his UN address, Sheikh Tamim also touched on several themes that have become staples of foreign policy speeches by Qatar officials, including:

  • Demanding “an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and establishing a Palestinian State;”
  • Denouncing the Syrian government and calling for “a political solution in Syria that would end the reign of tyranny;” and
  • Reasserting that the Gulf should remain free from the threat of nuclear weapons, while welcoming the recent agreement between Iran and several foreign countries to limit Tehran’s nuclear program.

Here’s the full text of his speech:

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