The Iranian president has held talks with top Qatari officials. During the first day of his trip this week, 14 cooperation documents were signed in the fields of aviation, trade, shipping, radio and television, foreign policy (visa waiver), electricity, standards, culture and education.
Of course, cooperation between the two countries has accelerated considerably because the nature of Tehran-Qatar relations is significantly different from ties between Tehran and other members of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council. A quick look at the historical trend of relations reveals this.
For instance, when Persian Gulf Arab states were seeking international consensus to pile pressure on Tehran over its nuclear energy program, Qatari leaders openly sided with Iran in international forums.
In 2015, Qatar voiced full support for the Iran Nuclear Deal.
When in 2017, the Saudi-led GCC accused Qatar of sponsoring terrorism and imposed an all-out blockade on the country, Iran intensified its support for Qatar.
Due to Iran’s diligent support, the prolonged blockade of Qatar not only failed to change Doha’s behavior the way Riyadh would have wanted, but also strengthened Iran-Qatar relations.
For instance, during the Saudi-led blockade, Qatar Airways increasingly used Iranian airspace to circumvent the imposed restrictions.
In addition, Iran provided food shipments to help Doha avoid a food security crisis. Iran’s exports to Qatar increased from $60 million in 2016 and 2017 to $250 million between 2017 and 2018.
Tehran and Doha have had somewhat similar fates in recent years. Iran is targeted by U.S. economic sanctions and terrorism, and Qatar has been in a state of economic war with some Arab countries.
This similarity or the common pain has led the leaders of the two countries to reconsider their foreign relations and economic policies. A common pain that could lay the groundwork for broader Tehran-Doha economic cooperation.
However, despite great potential for expansion of relations, Iran and Qatar still have a very long way to go to properly utilize each other’s economic capacities.
Unfortunately, Iran is not among Qatar’s top 20 trading partners. Qatari imports stand at nearly 27 billion dollars a year. What is Iran’s share of that huge figure? Between 350 to 360 million dollars. Therefore, a comprehensive study and serious efforts are needed to improve the volume of trade with Qatar.
Meanwhile, another important aspect of Raisi’s visit to Doha is related to Tuesday’s meeting of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum.
The Gas Exporting Countries Forum, headquartered in Doha is an intergovernmental organization with 19 members. The group produces 44% of the world’s gas and controls over 70% of all natural gas reserves.
Given the crisis between Russia and the West over Ukraine, and the possibility of American sanctions again Russian gas exports to Europe, Qatar is gaining significant political and economic weight because it is considered as an alternative source of natural gas to Europe.
Iran and Qatar share the world’s biggest gas field. Cooperation between the two sides is essential for ensuring the security of this field and access to it.