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Qatar’s emir to visit Iran and Europe to aid Iran nuclear pact

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani last visited Iran in January 2020 to reduce tensions between Tehran and Washington
Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani last visited Iran in January 2020 to reduce tensions between Tehran and Washington

Qatar’s emir will visit Iran, Germany, Britain and other European states starting this week on a trip expected to discuss efforts to revive Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal and energy security in Europe, a source briefed on the visit said on Sunday.

Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, ruler of one of the world’s top natural gas exporters, will visit Iran and then head on an “extensive visit to the EU and UK”, said the source, requesting anonymity as the trip has yet to be officially announced.

A key focus of discussions is how to “bridge the gap” on the nuclear talks which have been on hold since March, as well as liquefied natural gas and energy security on the European leg of the trip, the source said.

Iranian state media reported on Sunday that Qatar’s emir would travel to Iran to bolster ties but did not give an exact date or further details.

Germany and other European countries have sought to boost energy ties with Qatar as they seek alternatives to Russian gas amid supply fears and rising prices in light of the Ukraine conflict.

Most Qatari volumes are locked into long-term contracts and Qatar’s energy minister has said that no single country has the capacity to replace Russian gas supplies to Europe with liquefied natural gas in the event of disruption.

The source said the emir’s trip also aimed to bring the parties to the Iran nuclear pact to “a new middle ground”.

Indirect US-Iranian talks to salvage the deal have been at an impasse chiefly over Tehran’s insistence that Washington remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, its elite security force, from the US Foreign Terrorist Organization list.

Under the pact, Iran agreed to limit its nuclear programme in return for relief from sanctions. Washington withdrew from the deal in 2018 and re-imposed US sanctions. Tehran retaliated by gradually violating the agreement’s nuclear curbs.

Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani will visit Iran before travelling to Germany, Britain and other European states to discuss efforts to revive Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal and energy security in Europe.

The source added the Emir’s trip aimed at bringing parties to the Iran nuclear pact to a “new middle ground.” This follows an impasse in indirect Iran-US talks over Tehran’s insistence that Washington remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, its elite security force, from the US Foreign Terrorist Organization list.

Qatar’s emir last visited Iran in January 2020 to reduce tensions between Tehran and Washington following the killing of top Revolutionary Guard Commander Qassem Soleimani by the US while on a visit to Iraq.

Iranian state media also reported the Emir’s trip was meant to follow up on several bilateral memoranda of understanding signed during Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi’s visit to Doha in February. 

Emboldened by an oil price surge since Russia invaded Ukraine, Iran’s clerical rulers are in no rush to revive a 2015 nuclear pact with world powers to ease sanctions on its energy-reliant economy, three officials familiar with Tehran’s thinking said.

Last year, the Islamic Republic engaged in indirect talks with the US as a route to cancelling US sanctions that have gutted revenues and dramatically worsened economic hardships for ordinary people, stirring discontent.

But the talks have been on hold since March. While the ultimate aim is still to resurrect the deal and so have sanctions lifted, the Iranian officials said soaring oil prices had opened a window of opportunity for Iran by increasing revenues, giving the economy months of breathing space.

Despite the recent rise in revenues, sanctions continue to have a major impact on daily life in Iran, meaning that everyone from the business elite to lower-income families face soaring inflation, a sinking currency and rising joblessness.

The official inflation rate is around 40 percent while some people estimate it at over 50 percent. Almost half of Iran’s 82 million population are now below the poverty line. Unofficial estimates suggest unemployment is well above the official rate of 11 percent.

Prices of basic goods like bread, meat and rice are increasing daily. Iranian media frequently report layoffs and strikes by workers who have not been paid for months, including in government-owned factories.

Owning a home in Tehran is impossible for many. Prices have risen in recent months by around 50 percent in some areas. The currency has dropped over 70 percent against the U.S. dollar since 2018.

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