Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s 22-23 February visit to Qatar marked his first trip to a neighboring Arab country. The visit – which Raisi says marked “a new chapter in Iran-Qatar relations” – comes as the hardline president has promised to engage with regional neighbors (MEES, 6 August 2021). It also comes at a critical juncture for Iranian diplomacy as Vienna talks to revitalize the 2015 nuclear deal apparently near their denouement. For Qatar, hosting Mr Raisi affords the emirate the opportunity to play regional mediator, whilst also placing Qatar towards the front of the queue if when Iran’s economy reopens to investment.

The proximate reason for the invitation from Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani was this week’s Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) meeting in Doha. Qatar has always sought to maintain cordial relations with Iran, and the 2017-21 embargo of Qatar by its GCC neighbors strengthened ties between Doha and Tehran. Raisi alluded to this, saying that Iran “in difficult times always stands by the interests of independent countries and nations.” The visit, which built on previous meetings between officials as part of the Iran-Qatar Joint Economic Commission, saw 14 wide-ranging deals signed, spanning diplomacy, aviation, trade, shipping, media, energy, standardization, culture and education. In particular, Iran state power firm Tavanir and Qatari counterpart QEWC signed an agreement on electricity interconnection that may lead to building an under-sea power cable. (CONTINUED - 1079 WORDS)