Qatar’s FM urges ‘serious dialogue’ with Iran

Qatar’s top diplomat on Tuesday called for a “serious dialogue” with Iran in the wake of its nuclear deal with world powers

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Qatar’s top diplomat on Tuesday called for a “serious dialogue” with Iran in the wake of its nuclear deal with world powers, even as he blasted Tehran for continuing to support Syria’s embattled government.

Foreign Minister Khalid al-Attiyah made the comments in a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press that also touched on the controversy surrounding Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 World Cup and allegations of Doha’s links to Islamic militant groups.

Al-Attiyah spoke from a skyscraper office overlooking the rapidly developing Qatari capital, Doha, a day after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council in Qatar. Kerry’s visit was aimed in large part at reassuring the Arab allies of America’s commitment to their security in the wake of the deal, which gives Iran broad sanctions relief in exchange for guarantees it won’t build a nuclear bomb.

The Gulf states have welcomed the deal despite deep-seated mistrust of Iran, a non-Arab, Shiite power that they see as increasingly assertive through its support for sympathizers and militant groups throughout the region.

Al-Attiyah said a “firm agreement between the major players and Iran” was the best way to resolve the issue. And he suggested there was now scope to work with Iran on other issues too.

“We should have a serious dialogue with our neighbor, the Iranians, and... lay down our concerns from both sides, and solve them together. Iran is our neighbor in the region. We have to live together,” he said.

Qatar splits control of a vast underwater natural gas field with Iran. It has long positioned itself as a venue for mediating thorny regional conflicts, and it last week hosted a visit from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who has made outreach to his Arab neighbors a priority.

But al-Attiyah cautioned that there were still major areas of disagreement.

More work must be done to build confidence on both sides, including on the issue of “interfering in other countries’ internal affairs,” he said.

For the Gulf Arabs, that means a rollback of Iran’s longstanding support for militant proxies, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and other groups, including Yemen’s Shiite rebels that are dependent on Tehran’s backing.

“We are all in the GCC working toward a good neighborhood. We want also Iran to take this approach as well, and only then we can have a fruitful dialogue,” al-Attiyah said.

One major area of disagreement, he added, remains Iran’s support for embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad, who remains in power after more than four years of civil war that has left at least 250,000 Syrians dead, according to U.N. figures.

“We wish that Iran looked at Syria through the (eyes of the) Syrian people and not through the brutal regime,” al-Attiyah said.

Qatar, like other Gulf states, supports the mostly Sunni rebel movement fighting to topple Assad. It denies backing extremist groups, including the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group that has seized large parts of both Syria and neighboring Iraq, or the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front fighting Assad’s forces in Syria.

Nonetheless, Qatar has helped secure the release of hostages held by Syrian rebels, including a group of Greek Orthodox nuns and American journalist Peter Theo Curtis held by the Nusra Front last year.

In the interview with the AP, al-Attiyah said those negotiations happened with the help of intermediaries in Syria. He denied that his country was in direct contact with the al-Qaida-linked group, and expressed hope that the Nusra Front will drop its ties to al-Qaida.

“All these rumors against Qatar defending the extremists or supporting the extremists in Syria (have) no truth,” al-Attiyah said.

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