Iran’s official news agency said on Thursday that the Qatari foreign minister’s visit to Tehran should not be seen as facilitating direct talks with Washington.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian met his Qatari counterpart Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani in Tehran on Thursday morning, prompting suggestions in domestic and foreign media that Doha was working on direct talks between the United States and Iran. Iran to help revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
In a note titled “Misinterpretation by Iran, visit of Qatar’s foreign ministers”, IRNA noted “good and close relations” with Qatar, but said “speculation” on “direct talks with the United States in Vienna,” where multilateral talks to relaunch the 2015 agreement, had “fueled some misconceptions about the nature of the visit.”
The visit was announced on Wednesday, two days after two calls between the two foreign ministers. “Two phone calls can be made when relations are close, developments are rapid and the issue at hand is important,” tweeted Hamidreza Dehghani, Iran’s Ambassador to Doha.
The IRNA memo, released ahead of the Tehran meeting, reiterated Iran’s position that the central issue in reviving the 2015 agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was the need for the United States to “return to its commitments” under the agreement, which Washington left in 2018 while imposing “maximum pressure” sanctions.
The memo pointed out that until that happens, an “American presence at meetings of the Joint Committee [of remaining JCPOA members]in Vienna would be “irrelevant” and that “the key to solving the problem is [the US] revert to all commitments made under the JCPOA, not mediation.
IRNA went on to note both that some Iranian politicians had pleaded for direct talks with the United States and that Qatari officials had not refuted speculation about mediation because “they want to gain credit” by impersonating themselves. for a mediator. As the meeting between Amir-Abdollahian and al-Thani focused on “regional” issues, IRNA observed: “Qatar’s capabilities and record in this regard [mediation] does not support such an interpretation.”
Among these regional issues are growing tensions over the UAE’s role in the war in Yemen and the recent Ansar Allah, or Houthi, missile attacks in the UAE.
But Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, is due to meet US President Joe Biden on January 31, where the restoration of the JCPOA is expected to be discussed. Doha called on the United States and Iran to respect the terms of the agreement.
While Tehran has refused direct talks with the United States since Washington left the JCPOA, and has insisted that the Vienna negotiations, which began in April, remain formally within the structures of the JCPOA with indirect participation of the United States, there have been recent signs that with the Vienna Process at a crucial juncture, Tehran is reconsidering.
Talks remain contentious
Amir-Abdollahian said on Monday that the possibility of bilateral talks with the United States would not be “overlooked” if a “good deal with strong guarantees” was within reach. Ali Shamkhani, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), also mentioned the possibility in a tweet on Tuesday. President Ibrahim Raisi in a TV interview on Tuesday also seemed open, if hesitant, to perspective.
But such talks remain controversial. The hardline flagship newspaper Kayhan slammed Amir-Abdollahian and Shamkhani on Tuesday, demanding an explanation.
Abdollah Ganji, editor of the main newspaper Jahan, preferred to insist that any discussion with the United States should be bilateral and not within the structures of the JCPOA.
While Raisi has continued former President Hassan Rouhani’s approach to US participation in Vienna, some Iranian reformists have recently been pushed into direct talks with the US as the best way to lift sanctions on “maximum pressure”.
Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, who endorsed two years of talks with the United States before the JCPOA in 2015 and earlier on Afghanistan and Iran, said in January that “negotiations with the enemy at a certain moment does not necessarily mean surrender”.