Iran and the US are locked in “stalemate” and both parties need to compromise to avoid a “miscalculation” triggering a conflict, Qatar’s foreign minister has warned.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said Doha — which has ties to both Iran and the US — had been in discussions with Washington and Tehran in bid to de-escalate the situation in the region following weeks of high tensions that raised fears of a new conflict erupting in the Middle East.
“Right now, I believe it’s like a stalemate. What we are concerned about is any miscalculation by any of the parties, either direct or indirect parties,” Sheikh Mohammed said. “Any dispute should end with a settlement: settlement means compromises by both parties and we hope this happens sooner rather than later because the longer it takes, the more tension it creates in the region and will lead to more and more problems and conflicts.”
The Trump administration last month deployed an aircraft carrier strike group, B52 bombers and 1,500 additional troops to the region, citing unspecified “escalatory” action by Iran. US officials have also said they suspect Iran was behind sabotage attacks on four oil tankers, including two Saudi vessels, off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.
Tensions have reduced this month, and Sheikh Mohammed said Doha believed neither party wanted a war and instead wanted to contain the situation. But he said Iran wanted the US to ease crippling sanctions before there was any chance of negotiations.
Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, is expected in Tehran next week, where he hopes to meet president Hassan Rouhani and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader. Tokyo is a close US ally and has friendly relations with Tehran, raising the question of whether Mr Abe may seek to mediate between the two or act as a line of communication between the rival powers. But Japanese officials have played down the possibility of mediation.
Donald Trump last year unilaterally withdrew the US from the landmark 2015 nuclear accord Iran signed with world powers and has imposed what he has described as the “toughest ever” sanctions on the Islamic republic. But the US president said this month that he was prepared to talk to the regime. Mike Pompeo also said Washington would be willing to hold negotiations with “no preconditions” — the US secretary of state had previously made 12 demands of Iran, which Tehran rejected.
But Iran’s foreign ministry said on Saturday that Washington’s decision to impose sanctions on the country’s largest petrochemical holding group last week proved that the Trump administration’s offer of talks was “hollow”.
Sheikh Mohammed said Doha was trying to “bridge the gap and create a conversation between” the US and Iran.
He said Qatar respected the US policy, but added “we have our own assessment”.
“There is a big pressure on Iran’s economy, but Iran lived under sanctions for 40 years. It’s never been like this but they survived. We don’t see the repetition of the same way will create a different result,” he said. “They [Iran] don’t want to have a continuation of the sanctions at the same level and enter negotiations [with the US]. They believe there was an agreement and US was part of the agreement.”
Under the nuclear accord, Iran agreed to limit its nuclear activity in return for the economic relief of many sanctions being lifted. Mr Trump described the deal as the “worst ever” and accuses Iran of using regional proxies to stoke instability and extremism in the region.
Qatar hosts the US’s biggest military base in the Middle East, but also has good relations with Iran. Tehran came to Doha’s aid when regional rivals Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates led a regional embargo of the gas-rich Gulf state, opening its airspace and ports to Qatar.