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As Tehran and Washington consider direct nuclear talks, Qatar’s senior diplomat travels to Iran

FILE PHOTO: Qatar's Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani looks on during a news conference with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken following a signing ceremony at the State Department in Washington, DC on November 12 , 2021. Olivier Douliery/Pool via REUTERS

Qatar’s top diplomat visited Iran on Thursday, according to official media in both countries, just days before Qatar’s ruling emir attends talks in Washington at a vital time for Tehran’s and major powers’ efforts to resurrect a 2015 nuclear deal.

The news: Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-visit Thani’s comes after his Iranian colleague Hossein Amir-Abdollahian indicated on Monday that Tehran is willing to consider direct negotiations with Washington if a “decent nuclear solution” can be reached.

  • IRNA, Iran’s main news agency, broadcast footage of the two men meeting in Tehran. IRNA, on the other hand, stated that the visit was not meant to establish direct negotiations with Washington.
  • Although Doha and Tehran are experiencing good and close relations, this visit … has fuelled some misconceptions. Some are fabricating it to facilitate direct talks with the United States.
  • Since April, the US and Iran have undertaken eight rounds of indirect discussions in Vienna to re-establish the accord that removed sanctions in exchange for curbs on Tehran’s nuclear programme.
  • Iran began gradually breaking the pact’s nuclear limitations after then-US President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal in 2018 and re-imposed punishing penalties.
  • Significant gaps remain over the speed and extent of returning to the deal, including Iran’s need for a US guarantee of no further punitive steps, as well as how and when to reinstall restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities.

What’s going on: On January 31, Qatar’s ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, will meet with US President Joe Biden to discuss efforts to save the accord. Sheikh Mohammed, the minister, is scheduled to arrive in Washington on Friday ahead of the emir’s visit.

  • On January 11, Amir-Abdollahian met Sheikh Tamim and Sheikh Mohammed in Doha. During that visit, Obama requested Qatar to mediate the release of dual-national Iranian-Americans and Iranian-Europeans imprisoned in Iran, according to a source familiar with the talks.
  • The Gulf Arab state has previously assisted in the release of foreign detainees in other nations.
  • On Sunday, the senior US nuclear negotiator warned that sealing the nuclear deal is improbable until Tehran free four American citizens held captive by Washington.

What they’re saying: While ruling out any U.S. preconditions, Iran said on Monday that Tehran and Washington can reach “a lasting agreement on both separate paths (the Vienna talks and the prisoner exchange) if the other party has the will.”

  • Iranian officials declined to comment on the topic on Thursday, although Tehran has previously stated that it is ready for a full prisoner swap with the US.
  • Tehran claims that people are being held for political purposes. Many dual-nationals and foreigners in its detention centres have been charged with espionage. Iran claims that Iranians jailed in the United States, primarily for violating sanctions, are being held inhumanely.
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