WASHINGTON – The ruler of Qatar, one of the handful of Arab nations on good terms with Tehran, met on Tuesday with President Donald Trump for talks expected to touch on Doha’s offer to help ease tensions between the United States and Iran.
Two years after siding with Saudi Arabia in a diplomatic and economic offensive against Qatar, Trump welcomed Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani to the White House as if nothing had ever happened.
“It’s a great honor to be with the amir of Qatar – a highly respected man, a real leader in a large part of the world and a very important part of the world. And we’ve known each other a long time. We’ve been friends for a long time,” the president said as he sat alongside Al-Thani in the Oval Office.
“And we’re doing a lot of work now. They’re investing very heavily in our country. They’re creating a lot of jobs,” Trump said.
The public portion of the encounter focused on economic ties between the US and Qatar and the president’s only mention of Iran came when a reporter asked about Tehran’s decision to increase their stockpile of enriched uranium in the face of Trump administration sanctions preventing the Islamic Republic from exporting surplus uranium.
“Iran is doing a lot of bad things right now and they better be very careful,” the president said.
The amir planned to offer the good offices of Doha in seeking to arrange negotiations between the US and Iran, an official at Qatar’s embassy in Washington told The Daily Beast ahead of the White House meeting.
“We have offered to act as an independent and impartial mediator should Iran and the US decide to come to the table for discussions,” Qatari media attache Jassim Bin Mansour Al-Thani said.
The White House views Qatar’s initiative with caution, skeptical about the near-term prospects for negotiations with Iran.
While Washington has called for negotiations, Iranian leaders say they have no interest in talking until the US rejoins the 2015 nuclear accord – renounced by Trump last year – and lifts sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
“It’s well known that Qatar has a relationship with Iran,” a US official told The Washington Post on condition of anonymity. “I don’t think it would be any sort of formal mediation role. But we might look to them to pass messages and convey the seriousness of the administration’s attempt to de-escalate and build some sort of path to dialogue.”
Tensions in the Persian Gulf have increased recently amid attacks on oil tankers that Washington blamed on Iran and the shootdown of a US surveillance drone that Tehran says violated its airspace.
Yet Trump, despite expanding the US military presence in the region, insists that he does not want war with Iran, pushing instead for a dialogue along the lines of the one has pursued with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Iran and Qatar have long had close relations, due in large part to their joint ownership of the world’s largest natural-gas field, which spans the Persian Gulf.
Trump’s decision two years ago to support Saudi Arabia in its feud with Doha alarmed members of his own administration concerned about the future of the US military base in Qatar, Washington’s largest outpost in the region.
On Tuesday, all of that seemed to be forgotten.
“So, we just appreciate everything. We have a great operation – military operation – right now in Qatar. They built one of the great military bases, I would say, anywhere in the world. And it’s just been expanded, with runways and everything else. It’s been really a great honor to work with my friend. Thank you very much for being here,” Trump told Al-Thani in the Oval Office.
“Yes, we host at Al Udeid Base, and it’s – we’re working very closely together. You’re invited to come and see Qatar and also to visit the base at any time, Mr. President,” the amir replied.
The two heads of state then witnessed a Qatari official sign contracts worth tens of millions of dollars with US corporate giants Boeing, General Electric, Raytheon, Gulfstream and Chevron.