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Qatar emir in talks with Rouhani in official visit to Iran

After meeting Iran's president, Qatar's ruler says both sides agreed de-escalation is 'only solution' to regional crisis
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani walks with Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani during a welcome ceremony in Tehran on 12 January 2020 (Reuters)

Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani arrived in Iran for an official visit on Sunday, amid heightened tensions following the US killing of an Iranian commander and retaliatory strikes.

Qatar is close to the US and hosts Washington's largest military base in the region, but it also enjoys strong ties with Iran, with which it shares the world's largest gas field.

After a meeting with Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, both sides agreed de-escalation was the "only solution" to the regional crisis, the emirate's ruler said, as cited by AFP.

"This visit comes at a critical time in the region," the emir said on what was believed to be his first official visit to the Islamic republic. "We agreed... that the only solution to these crises is de-escalation from everyone and dialogue."

An official at Qatar's Government Communications Office earlier confirmed that the visit would follow a stop in Oman.

Sheikh Tamim left Doha for Muscat on Sunday morning "to offer condolences on the death of Sultan Qaboos," the state-run Qatar News Agency reported. The long-serving ruler of Oman died on 10 January.

Qatar's Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani reportedly had also called for a peaceful solution that would lead to a de-escalation of tensions during a visit to Tehran in the immediate aftermath of the US strike on 3 January that killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani while he was in Iraq.

Iran retaliated against the US for Soleimani's death by firing missiles at American assets in Iraq, which US President Donald Trump said caused no casualties.

Iran has since admitted that shortly after its missile strikes it shot down an airliner near Tehran by mistake on Wednesday, killing all 176 people on board. 

Qatar's relationship with Iran, seen as the major rival to Saudi Arabia in the region, is one of the major factors underpinning a crisis between Qatar and its former allies in the region.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt all cut ties with Qatar in 2017, accusing Doha of backing extremism and being too close to Iran, charges Qatar denies.