Qatar to reinstate ambassador to Iran as Gulf crisis persists

Qatar said it would be restoring full diplomatic relations with Iran, on Aug 24, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

DOHA (AFP) - Qatar is to restore full diplomatic relations with regional power Iran, its foreign ministry announced Thursday (Aug 24), in a significant move at a time of diplomatic friction within the Gulf.

A statement from the ministry said Qatar aimed to bolster relations between the two countries, which share the world's largest natural gas field.

"The State of Qatar announced today that its ambassador to Teheran will return to exercise its diplomatic duties," read the statement.

Qatar was also seeking to "strengthen bilateral relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran in all fields", it added.

In Teheran, the foreign ministry said Qatar's decision followed a telephone conversation on Wednesday night between Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his Qatari counterpart, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani.

"During the conversation... the Qatari side expressed their desire to send their ambassador back to Tehran and we welcomed this decision," said ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi. "The development of relations with our neighbours is an absolute priority" for Iran, he said.

Doha pulled its ambassador from Teheran in January 2016 following attacks on the Saudi Arabian embassy, spurred by Riyadh's decision to execute a Shi'ite cleric in the kingdom.

The decision to restore ties comes as Qatar is locked in a diplomatic impasse with Iran's great regional rival, Saudi Arabia, which has accused Doha of ties to Shi'ite Iran and support for Sunni Islamist extremist groups. Qatar denies the accusations.

On June 5, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates severed all diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar in what has become the worst political crisis to grip the Gulf region in decades.

Ironically, the crisis may have pushed Iran and Qatar closer together.

Qatar's move may be seen as provocative among those countries which have cut ties, but Saudi Arabia and its allies have not yet responded.

Political and business leaders in Qatar have argued that they have to maintain ties with Iran because of the gas field, which Doha calls the North Field and in Tehran is known as South Pars.

Qatar has also turned to Iran to help food imports as previously most supplies came through Saudi Arabia, which sealed off Qatar's only land border as part of the boycott.

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