Qatar has spent the last few years building a reputation as a proactive neutral peacemaker in the Middle East. The government is credited with successful reconciliation between conflicting factions in countries such as Lebanon, Sudan and Yemen, as well as recent successes with Hamas and Fatah signing a unity agreement in Doha, demonstrating Qatar’s profound influence over regional diplomacy.
Doha is host to established bodies, leaders and individuals from around the world and the rest of the Middle East, including the region’s key players, and maintains both formal and informal diplomatic ties with members of the Arab world, Israel and Iran.
Radical changes during the Arab uprising offer new opportunities for Qatar’s role to evolve. But, as the blueprints of the future political structure of the Arab world are constantly being drawn and modified by seismic shifts of power, Doha faces a different challenge, that of the aggravated dispute over Iran’s nuclear endeavours.
Iran’s nuclear ambitions have provoked the West to the point where military action is a distinct reality. President Ahmandinajad announced the unveiling of new nuclear achievements and described the West’s resistance against it as “futile” – quite rightly so. Iran’s flagrant disregard at recent sanctions has proved that the West’s attempts to curtail its nuclear proliferation programme are backfiring. The West now sheepishly looks on as its orchestrated hostility and repeated careless threats of military action continue to fall on deaf ears.
The Qatar leadership has positioned itself to reign in the West and convince it to disown the military option, instead urging for “serious dialogue” through diplomacy and peaceful negotiation. It would bode well for Qatar to necessitate talks between the isolated pariah Islamic republic and its antagonistic Western opponent for its own purpose in the future of the Middle East. As a major exporter of gas and oil, Qatar has long term strategic interests in the region to continue bolstering the country’s economic growth and influence.
Of all the U.S.-friendly Sunni oil monarchies in the Gulf, Qatar enjoys the most comfortable of relations with the Islamic republic. Both countries share close ties and have shaken hands over a number of trade, economic, nuclear, and military agreements over the years. Qatar also depends heavily on the Strait of Hormuz, which Iran has threatened to close, to export liquefied natural gas (LNG).
As a result of this threat, Qatari officials have been prompted to find alternative routes for the export of LNG. Add to this Qatar’s nervous predisposition in the face of Iran threatening to hit those countries from which America would launch its military attack – it is host to the United States Central Command Headquarters – no doubt Qatar is apprehensive about military action against Iran. In an attempt to thwart further probing into the military option, Qatar is one of the six countries that have refused to allow America to launch an attack from its base, while discussions between Israel and Washington are being pursued.
Even though Qatar joined in with the Western chorus for military intervention in Libya and supported rebels against Qaddafi’s regime, and has recently called for intervention in Syria. In the context of the dispute over the Iranian regime’s nuclear expeditions, military intervention would be far more costly and brutally damaging to the future political dynamics of the Middle East, which would serve Qatar’s long term strategic and economic interests.
Qatar has, so far, tactically appeased both America and Iran with its views on the Iranian nuclear programme. The government has engaged in discussions with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2010 but limited its public statements regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions to rhetoric about Iran’s right to a peaceful nuclear programme.
As Qatar aspires to resolve the Iran’s nuclear dispute, for its own long term strategic interests, the country will likely be engaging in an affair that will require effective propositions to maintain its perceived neutral stance considering her close ties with America. Fortunately, the government is geopolitically well established to mediate diplomacy between Washington and the Iranian regime. Oil and gas reserves have made Qatar highly influential with both its neighbours and the West. She is also in a more viable position diplomatically to offer financial, economic and political incentives to reduce tensions and set the basis for stable relations between Washington and Tehran.
However, as ambitious as this task sounds Qatar could run the risk of it becoming cumbersome. Qatar’s successes in recent years with mediation have added credibility and value to its role as a peace broker, but the country has only emerged on the scene as a prominent facilitator of Middle East diplomacy very recently. The Iran-West schism on the nuclear programme is longstanding. Both sides have failed to gauge for a successful resolution or made attempts towards reconciliation. The West seems fixated on the military option, and Iran refuses to back down. Therefore Qatar has the responsibility to navigate dialogue on this new territory, with little experience but major stakes.