by Adam Pourahmadi
WASHINGTON – Qatar’s independent foreign policy is proving to be a formidable response to the changing geopolitical dynamics of the Arab Spring’s Middle East.
A new cadre of diplomatic cables released by the whistle-blowing site Wikileaks reveals the shrewd policies of Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. The ability of this small nation to balance the power of the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran is nothing short of spectacular.
On April 15, 2009, the US embassy in Doha sent a cable to Qatar regarding Special Envoy George Mitchell. In the cable, particular attention is paid to a May 2008 visit by Treasury Secretary Paulson. On the same day, Qatar announced that the only authorized Iranian bank (Bank Saderat) could open a second branch.
The Iranians had pressed to open more banks.
During the annual 2010 U.S. – Islamic Forum featuring speeches from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US Senator John Kerry, an Iranian war vessel and naval support vessel docked in the Port of Doha for a four-day port call, a full ten years since the last port call from Iranian navy vessels.
In the increasingly militarized Persian Gulf, port calls by navy ships are an important way to flex geopolitical power.
Could these events perhaps have served as a way for Qatar to garner the necessary political capital to influence Iranian behavior as an outcome of the Arab Spring?
While some Iranian experts claim Iran has a historical pattern of unflinching support for Syria, it is far more likely that the Islamic Republic of Iran will prove itself to be a far more pragmatic player.
Consequently, Qatar is once again playing its diplomatic hand.
On August 25th, 2011, the last day of Eid al-Fitr, Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani paid an impromptu visit to Tehran to discuss issues of bilateral interest in a working iftar. It is widely speculated that the purpose of the visit was to encourage the Iranians to distance themselves from Damascus.
Reports are now circulating that, at the behest of the Qataris, Iranian diplomats have met with European members of the Syrian opposition to gauge propsects for the post-Assad Syrian leadership.
If true, any distancing from the Assad regime by the Iranians would be a major blow internationally to the Syrian Arab Republic. Indeed, Washington’s conventional wisdom of the Iran-Syria alliance is being tested.