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What U.S sanctions? Qatar expands flight operation in Iran


News Analysis |

Qatar Airways has announced that it is expanding its operation into the third city of Iran, Isfahan, with weekly two flights. The announcement has come at a time when the latest round of U.S sanctions over Iran has made some aviation giants like Air France, British Airways and KLM terminate their flight operations in Iran. “These latest launches are further evidence of Qatar Airways’ commitment to Iran,” said Akbar al-Baker, the airline’s group chief executive. Qatar Airways– filling in the wedge caused by other airlines– are going to be economically profitable for the company, but it remains to be seen how the airlines deal with the subsidiary pressure which would eventually come from the United States.

Qatar – An Anomaly in the Arabian Peninsula

Majority of the countries on the Arabian Peninsula follow the lead of Saudi Arabia in the strategic and economical methods but it is not true for Qatar. The most fundamental reservation which Saudi Arabia had against Qatar was it leniency toward Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival Iran. Unlike the other Arab states, Qatar maintained an unhostile policy toward Iran and Muslim Brotherhood which eventually led to the quadrate blockade continuing till the date.

Over the past year, Qatar has invested tens of millions of dollars to lobby for its cause inside the White House and the Capitol Hill.

On June 5, 2017, Saudi Arabia – alongside fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries Bahrain and the UAE, as well as Egypt – imposed a sea, air and land blockade on Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism and destabilizing the region, allegations Doha has consistently denied.

Among its list of demands for the resolution of the crisis, the blockading quartet asked that Al Jazeera media network and a Turkish military base be shut down. While the blockade was meant to clog the flow of goods, even the basic means of sustenance since Qatar itself produces nothing except LNG and oil, the country has emerged stronger than before and the blockade apparently has not been even close to forcing Doha into following the demands of Riyadh.

Read more: Iran sits pretty as the Qatar crisis continues to loom

The same feat was recently acknowledged by the Canadian Ambassador to Qatar Stefanie McCollum who said, “It (Qatar) has diversified trade routes, established new trading partners, build domestic capabilities in strategic sectors, such as agriculture, and have overcome unimaginable obstacles, while maintaining  peace, security, and stability for its citizens and residents – a commendable feat by any measures”.

Qatar – Iran Relations

It is not easy to have a soft corner for a state which is being despised by the rest of neighboring states especially when one of those states is Saudi Arabia. Qatar eventually paid the price for deeming the friendly relations with Iran, in which a fake news planted by a hacker became the catalyst behind the blockade. While the cozy relations between Doha and Tehran might have been covert before the blockade, they are now being forged openly since the boycott of neighboring Arab states. Stepping in at the time of crisis is likely to be interpreted as a gesture of a good friend by Iran which would have long-term impacts on the bilateral relations of both the countries.

The Wise Diplomatic Game

Over the past year, Qatar has invested tens of millions of dollars to lobby for its cause inside the White House and the Capitol Hill. The blockade remains intact, but Qatar was successful to make the U.S change its attitude about the country. Qatar has managed to persuade certain lawmakers and influential Americans that it is a U.S. ally in the fight against terrorism and victim of an unfair boycott, interviews with advisers on both sides show.

It is one hand keeping the Americans in the loop while extending an arm toward Iran at the same time. Therefore it would not be surprising if Qatar Airways manages to secure a wavier the way nine of the U.S allies have regarding the oil trade with Iran.

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