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Qatar minister calls on Gulf states to hold talks with Iran

Shortly after Saudi Arabia and its allies lifted their blockade on Doha, Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani calls for dialogue with Tehran
Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani as he attends a press conference in Moscow on 23 December (AFP)

Qatar has called for Gulf Arab countries to hold talks with Iran, the foreign minister said in an interview aired on Tuesday, after Doha reconciled with its neighbours after a three-year blockade.

Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, who has previously called for dialogue with Iran, told Bloomberg TV he was "hopeful that this would happen and we still believe this should happen".

"This is also a desire that's shared by other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries," he said.

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It comes weeks after Saudi Arabia, Bahrain. the UAE and Egypt re-established ties with Qatar after breaking them off in June 2017, imposing a land and air blockade partly over allegations that Qatar was too close to Iran. Doha denied the accusations.

Qatar and Iran share one of the world's largest gas fields and Doha maintains cordial relations with Tehran.

Qatar also has close relations with Washington and hosts a large US military base. It has previously mediated between the US and Iran,  suggesting that Sheikh Mohammed's intervention could be timed as a signal to the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden, who is due to take office on Wednesday.

The current occupant of the White House, President Donald Trump, has pursued a policy of "maximum pressure" on Iran and pulled the United States out of a multilateral nuclear deal with it in 2018.

"We want the accomplishment, we want to see the deal happening,” Thani said of potential talks between Washington and Tehran.

Saudi Arabia has not publicly indicated any willingness to engage with Iran.

Instead Riyadh insisted that this month's rapprochement with Qatar meant the Gulf family would be better able to combat "the threats posed by the Iranian regime's nuclear and ballistic missile programme".

"Qatar will facilitate negotiations, if asked by stakeholders, and will support whoever is chosen to do so," the minister added.

Thani added that his government was supporting ongoing discussions between Iran and South Korea to secure the release of an oil tanker seized by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard earlier this month.