Iran and the US resumed talks for the revival of the Iran Nuclear Deal 2015/Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in Qatar, with mediation from the European Union (EU) on June 28, 2022. These talks which carried on for two days ended without making any progress.
EU Chief Josep Borrell had visited Iran, last week, and held talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, with regard to resumption of talks. Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian had said last week that Tehran was prepared to resume talks, as long as it received the economic benefits of the 2015 accord. After his meeting with the Iranian Foreign Minister, Borrell tweeted:
‘In a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian we agreed on resumption of negotiations between Iran and US in the coming days, facilitated by my team, to solve the last outstanding issues’.
The stumbling blocks between Iran and other signatories to the revival of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal have been ; Iran’s expansion of its nuclear program, and its removal of 27 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) cameras. The US, France, the UK and Germany introduced a resolution which censured Iran for this step. Apart from this, Iran has also been demanding that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) be removed from the US’ foreign terrorist organisation list, something Washington has been resisting. Israel has also been opposing the Iran nuclear deal (though it has recently changed its stance and has said that it is willing to accept a deal which threatens the security of the Middle East).
While sections of the Iranian media were critical of the talks held in Qatar, a senior Iranian diplomat said that they were held in a professional atmosphere, and that Iran would explore ways of taking forward negotiations.
The US has been keen for a revival of the deal in order to keep global oil prices in check in the aftermath of the Ukrainian crisis. Iran has in fact been selling oil in spite of its sanctions to a number of countries (though China has reduced its purchase of oil from Iran, since it is importing from Russia at a much cheaper price). The US State Department while commenting on the talks held in Doha was critical of Iran, saying:
‘Indirect discussions in Doha have concluded, and while we are very grateful to the EU for its efforts, we are disappointed that Iran has, yet again, failed to respond positively to the EU’s initiative and therefore that no progress was made,’
One of the other important dimension of the talks was that they were held in Qatar. Qatar’s strategic clout has risen for a number of reasons in recent years; talks between the Taliban and the US, which began in 2020, were held in Doha, it played an important role in reducing tensions between Israel and Palestine in 2021, after the Taliban takeover, in August 2021, Qatar helped in the evacuations of US citizens as well as citizens of countries, and it has agreed to represent US interests in Afghanistan since the US embassy in Afghanistan has closed. It would be pertinent to also point out that even before the Ukraine crisis, US has been asking Qatar to supply oil to Europe.
During the visit of Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani to the US in January 2022, US President Joe Biden announced that Qatar would be declared a major Non-Nato ally. In March 2022, a formal announcement was made in this context.
While post the Ukraine crisis, western countries have been looking to Qatar to fulfil their oil needs, the latter has also had close economic ties with Russia, the Qatar Investment authority holds a 19% stake in Russian oil company Rosneft.
Gulf countries and Qatar’s strategic clout
Other Gulf countries, particularly Saudi Arabia had not been happy with Qatar’s strategic importance not just within the Middle East, but globally as well (in 2017, Saudi Arabia was one of the countries which had imposed a blockade on Qatar). In fact, Saudi Arabia’s reset of ties within the Middle East, including ties with Turkey and Iran, has been attributed to Qatar’s increasing diplomatic clout in the Middle East. UAE too has been keeping a close watch on Qatar’s rise, and Taliban’s decision to hand over the management of airports in Herat, Kabul and Kandahar, to Abu Dhabi-based firm GAAC Solutions is significant in this context (this was a surprising move since Taliban had been in talks with Turkey and Qatar for management of airports)
Qatar’s role in the talks, even though they have not been successful, will once again help in raising its strategic clout. It is the only GCC country which shares cordial ties with Iran and this was one of the reasons why a blockade was imposed on it by Gulf countries in 2017.
While Qatar would have wanted the recent negotiations between Iran and other signatories to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal to have been successful, the talks being held in Doha are a reminder of the fact that it is a crucial player not just in the Middle East, but globally. An independent foreign policy and the ability to not get stuck in a zero-sum trap has stood the country in good stead.