Diplomatic crisis in the Middle East has been ongoing since June 4
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain have sought to isolate Qatar
Qatar will restore full diplomatic relations with Iran, it announced Thursday, in a move that will infuriate the country’s Arab neighbors and could deepen the region’s worst diplomatic crisis in decades.
“The state of Qatar expressed its aspirations to strengthen bilateral relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran in all fields,” the Qatari Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The countries’ foreign ministers spoke on the phone Thursday and discussed “bilateral relations” as well as a “number of issues of common concern,” the statement said, adding Qatar’s ambassador will return to Iran to exercise “diplomatic duties.”
Cutting ties with Tehran was a key demand put on Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt in June in return for lifting a boycott that has roiled the Middle East.
Other demands including cutting ties to terrorist organizations, reducing Turkey’s military footprint in the country, and shuttering media network Al Jazeera.
The four countries abruptly suspended diplomatic relations and cut off land, sea and air travel to Qatar on June 5, accusing it of supporting terrorism and destabilizing the Gulf region. Qatar has rejected the accusations, calling them “unjustified” and “baseless.”
Yemen, Mauritania, the Maldives and Libya’s eastern-based government also initially suspended diplomatic relations with Qatar in the wake of the crisis.
So far, Qatar has largely stared down its neighbors, ignoring an initial 10-day deadline to respond to their demands and continuing to seek a diplomatic solution.
Standing their ground
Some of the pressure has been alleviated by food shipments from Iran and Turkey, and calls for calm and a diplomatic solution from both the US and Russia.
Qatar is a US ally and the US maintains a large military base there, home to some 11,000 personnel.
Last week, Saudi Arabia said it would open its land border with Qatar to allow Hajj-bound pilgrims to enter the kingdom, and would even pay their expenses.
Saudi’s King Salman also offered to dispatch private jets to transport pilgrims from Qatar to Jeddah.
Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said his country welcomed the move, though he considered it “politically motivated.”
The move came after some Arab countries had accused Qatar of trying to “politicize” the Hajj after it complained its pilgrims would not be able to visit the holy site due to the ongoing embargo.
Upping the pressure
It remains to be seen whether Qatar can continue to withstand the pressure from its neighbors as it seeks a diplomatic solution.
“Qatar has a number of tools in its toolbox to withstand the pressure. For example it’s got robust investments, it has healthy foreign reserves and now it is getting supplies – foodstuffs and other essential goods – from Turkey and Iran,” Mehran Kamrava, an expert at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar, told CNN last month.
“It’s the Qatari business community that is suffering. A business community that has multiple roots in places like Dubai and in Saudi Arabia, and I think that’s the critical point – how long will the business community in Qatar remain behind the government’s position.”
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir said recently the quartet was willing to negotiate, but “dialogue doesn’t mean there are concessions.”
In a joint statement in late July, the quartet said negotiations could only take place if Qatar showed “real intention” to stop supporting terrorism and interfering in the affairs of neighboring countries.
CNN’s Tamara Qiblawi, Hamdi Alkhshali and Sarah El Sirgany contributed reporting.