Thursday, March 25, 2010

QATAR-IRAN: Ties deepen with border and defence deals

No larger graphic available.
OXFAN: Excerpts:
"Qatar and Iran plan to sign a maritime boundary agreement in the coming months to clarify the demarcation of one of the world's largest natural gas condensate fields, North Field/South Pars, which they share. The proposed agreement comes amid strengthening relations between the two countries, and follows the signing of defence and security pacts earlier this year. For Qatar, it promises to eliminate a long-held fear that Iran might extend its claim to Qatar's portion of the field. For Iran, it marks a strategic move to reduce tension with Gulf Arab states and weaken a major US stronghold in the region.
ANALYSIS: The gas field that Iran and Qatar share extends over an area of 9,700 square kilometres (sq km). Some 6,000 sq km are in Qatari territorial waters, where it is called North Field; and 3,700 sq km are in Iranian territorial waters, where it is called South Pars:
  • Total reserves are estimated to be 1,800 trillion cubic feet (tcf) -- equivalent to 360 billion barrels of oil -- of which 1,300 tcf are in Qatari waters and 500 tcf in Iranian waters......
For Doha, the planned maritime delimitation pact will be a major achievement. It will ease concerns that Iran may extend its claim over the field and disrupt Qatar's exploitation of gas, on which its prosperity depends.
Defence and security. The pact follows a series of political, economic, cultural, security and defence agreements signed in recent years. Two key agreements were signed in February, and earlier this month respectively:
1. Defence pact..... provides for the exchange of specialised and technical personnel, cooperation in training, and joint campaigns against terrorism in the region.....
2. Security treaty. A security treaty signed by the respective interior ministers on March 9 envisages cooperation in combating organised crime, human and drug-trafficking, money-laundering and smuggling of goods.
These deals are largely symbolic, with little cooperation of real substance envisaged. Qatar's security remains firmly under the US umbrella, and Washington was almost certainly consulted prior to the signings. Nevertheless, they reflect Qatar's interest in pursuing deeper relations with Iran.
Political relations. Qatar hosts the Pentagon's Middle East forward headquarters at Assaliya, and the largest airbase outside North America, at al-Udeid. However, it has maintained close relations with Iran -- sometimes to the frustration of regional powers such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt:
  • In December 2007, Qatar's emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad as a special guest to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Doha, much to the chagrin of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.......... again in January 2009 as a special guest at the Arab summit in Doha to discuss the Israeli assault on Hamas in Gaza. Key Arab states, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt, boycotted the meeting.
  • Qatar opposes sanctions against Iran and has declared repeatedly that it would not be party to any attack on its nuclear facilities. In July 2006, as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, Qatar voted against the efforts of France, Germany and the United Kingdom to impose, and then widen, sanctions against Iran......... (and) extends political support and financial largesse to Hizbollah and Hamas, both Iranian allies.
Motivation . Qatar has a number of motives for forging closer relations with Iran:
  • Given its close proximity to Iran, its hosting of US military bases,.... Although the possibility of a US attack on Iran in response to its nuclear programme is at present remote, an Israeli attack is more plausible. Qatar likely calculates that balancing its commitments is the best way to avoid getting caught in the middle. While retaining US protection, Doha expects at least to be consulted in the event of an Iranian retaliation targeting US interests on its soil.
  • Iran provides a regional counterbalance to Saudi Arabia, of whose power and possible interference Qatar remains suspicious,....
  • Closer relations -- and in particular, the maritime boundaries pact -- are intended in large part to deter conflicts over North Field/South Pars.
  • Qatar also wishes to avoid disaffection among its domestic Shia community, which comprises about 30% of the population.
Ramifications. Qatar has so far been successful in manoeuvring between sometimes conflicting bilateral relationships. Closer relations with Iran could have a wider impact in the region, although this will be limited:
  • Qatar is only the second country in the Arab world to forge a defence deal with Iran. However, its level of cooperation falls well behind that of Syria, and a major shift in its allegiances is may have an impact in particular on Qatari relations with Saudi Arabia. Both Saudi Arabia and Egypt are wary of Qatar's moves, and should Qatari ties with these countries come under strain, it may draw closer to Iran in response.
  • Qatar's moves have the potential to undermine the unity of the GCC, which has repeatedly spurned an Iranian offer to form a collective security and defence mechanism for the region. However, there has been little GCC response to the defence pact, suggesting some confidence that the pact is mostly symbolic. Other GCC countries maintain economic links with Iran, and will understand the need to maintain amicable relations over the gas field..
  • It may help Iran to expand its influence in the Arab world. Tehran likely hopes to secure other defence pacts in order to penetrate US influence in the region, and Oman is the most probable next candidate. However, such accords will be limited in scope, and not include an Iranian troop presence.
  • Qatar's moves may undermine the US attempt to build a united front against Iran. Although Doha is highly unlikely to fully align itself with Tehran, it may resist the use of its US bases against Iran in any future military conflict....

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