Qatari foreign relations

The point of no return?

The crisis between Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt on the one hand and Qatar on the other appears to be approaching tipping point. The possibility of Doha's departure from the GCC and new alliances with Turkey and Iran is likely to trigger major shifts in the regionʹs balance of power. By Stasa Salacanin

With no resolution to the Gulf crisis in sight, the question of Qatar's departure from the GCC is becoming ever more relevant. Despite strong criticism aimed at the Qatari leadership and sporadic calls from some of the Arab quartet states for the expulsion of Qatar from the GCC, formal ejection of Doha from the block would pose a serious challenge for the Saudis and UAE, especially following Doha-Tehran rapprochement and ever closer Qatar-Ankara relations.

Opening another front on the Saudi-UAE doorstep would require additional resources, especially if Oman and Kuwait were to follow Qatarʹs example. Instead, the Saudis have been trying to isolate Qatar as much as possible, yet with little or no success.

It is also unclear whether Kuwait and Oman will fall into step and accept Saudi-UAE dominance, especially in the light of the UAEʹs December announcement, which foresaw a new economic and security partnership with the Saudis, separate from the rest of the GCC. This reflects the deep divisions among the Gulf states and ultimately casts doubt over the future – indeed, the very existence – of the GCC.

Pragmatic rapprochement with Iran

Since the blockade began, Qatar has signed a number of new military, security, commercial and other agreements. Qatarʹs rapprochement with Iran and Turkey is especially significant: some analysts see in this the contours of a new regional bloc taking shape.

Ras Laffan Industrial City, Qatar's principal site for production of liquefied natural gas and gas-to-liquid, administrated by Qatar Petroleum, some 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of the capital Doha, on 6 February 2017 (photo: Getty Images/AFP/K. Jaafar)
Qatari-Iranian relations under scrutiny: Przemyslaw Osiewicz from the Middle East Institute in Washington D.C notes that any kind of rapprochement between Iran and Qatar will be seen in Washington as a direct threat to national security and American interests in the region

Iran and Qatar have always made efforts to maintain working relations, co-existing in the stormy waters of the Persian Gulf, while sharing the largest gas field on the planet: the North Field. Since last June, Iran has become a vital trade route for Qatar, especially for goods coming from Turkey and Azerbaijan. In order to intensify trade and make it less complicated, Qatar, Iran, and Turkey have even signed a three-way transportation agreement.

For Silvia Colombo, the Head of the Mediterranean & Middle East Programme at the Italian Institute for Foreign-Affairs (IAI), the "Qatari decision to fix its relations with Iran is a pragmatic move in order to bypass the isolation and blockade that Qatar has been experiencing for many months now. With this diplomatic move, Qatar has sent a message to its neighbours that it is an independent player."

Przemyslaw Osiewicz from the Middle East Institute in Washington D.C, also believes that a Qatari-Iranian alliance could prove highly pragmatic and effective. "It is not, however, not based on any ethnic connections or ideological platform, which could make it very vulnerable to any changes in the region," he adds.

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