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Mon. 9:31 a.m.: Iran’s president meets Qatar emir in Doha ahead of gas forum

In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Ebrahim Raisi, left, listens to Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, today in Doha, Qatar. Iran’s president has arrived in Qatar for a summit of gas exporting countries, the state-run news outlet reported today. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran’s president arrived in Qatar today and was welcomed in an official ceremony by the country’s ruling emir ahead of a global gas summit and as pressure mounts to revive Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers.

This is President Ebrahim Raisi’s fourth trip abroad since he took office six months ago. His visit to the neighboring Arab state of Qatar, with which Iran shares a vast underwater gas field, comes as the two Persian Gulf countries forge even closer bonds.

Kicking off his visit to Doha, the two leaders sat side by side as 14 agreements of cooperation were signed in fields including aviation, trade, shipping, media, electricity, culture and education, according to media in both countries. The Iranian president traveled to Qatar with five Cabinet ministers, including the foreign and energy ministers, the state-run news outlet IRNA reported.

Speaking to reporters in Qatar, Raisi said Iran was “seeking change in regional relations” around cooperation and interaction. Referring to the ongoing negotiations in Vienna around Iran’s nuclear accord, he said the United States must prove it is willing to lift key sanctions against his country.

“In order to reach an agreement, it is necessary to ensure the interests of the Iranian people, especially the lifting of sanctions,” he said.

The United States has participated indirectly in the talks because it unilaterally withdrew from the accord in 2018 under then President Donald Trump. President Joe Biden has signaled that he wants to rejoin the deal.

The tiny nation of Qatar, which lies on the eastern side of the Arabian Peninsula and has only one land border to Saudi Arabia, is among the world’s largest suppliers of liquefied natural gas. Despite its small size, it also plays a strategic role as a back channel, mediator and facilitator of negotiations among countries and groups.

Qatar’s ties with both Washington and Tehran allow Doha to relay viewpoints between the two. Qatar’s foreign minister, who reportedly met with his Iranian counterpart on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, visited Tehran last month. That visit that came just days before Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani met with President Joe Biden in Washington. Biden described Qatar as a “good friend and a reliable partner “ and designated the energy-rich state as a major non-NATO ally after its outsized role in assisting with the chaotic mass evacuation of Afghans and foreigners following the Taliban’s takeover of the country last summer.

While in Qatar, Raisi will attend the Gas Exporting Countries Forum in Doha, where he is expected to deliver remarks on Tuesday. The forum is likely to focus on tensions over Ukraine and what could happen to Europe’s energy supply if Russia were to invade. The forum is aimed at bringing heads of state and energy ministers from gas exporting nations to interact and exchange views.

The forum, which comes as a growing number of nations pledge to shift towards renewable energy and reduce carbon emissions, represents nations that hold 70 percent of the world’s proven gas reserves. In addition to Qatar and Iran, the forum includes Russia, Egypt, Libya, Nigeria, Algeria, Bolivia, Equatorial Guinea, Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela, in addition to the seven observer countries of Angola, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Malaysia, Norway, Peru and the United Arab Emirates

Iran, similar to Turkey, rushed to support Qatar with vital imports in the first days of a lightning diplomatic blitz in mid-2018 by four Arab nations, led by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Qatari flights were also rerouted over Iranian airspace during that time. The quartet of nations was angered by Qatar’s support for Islamist groups across the region in the wake of Arab Spring protests and over Qatar’s ties with Iran.

Qatar has a little more than 300,000 citizens, but expatriate foreign workers on temporary visas far outnumber the local population. It is set to host the FIFA World Cup later this year, the first time ever the tournament will be played in the Middle East.

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