Qatar falls further under Iran's spell with new trade routes

Ministers of Qatar, Iran and Turkey held talks in Tehran on long-term alternatives to supply Doha's needs after it was boycotted by fellow Arab states

FILE - In this Thursday Jan. 6, 2011 file photo, a traditional dhow floats in the Corniche Bay of Doha, Qatar, with tall buildings of the financial district in the background. Qatar has hired a Washington influence firm founded by President Donald Trump's former campaign manager and another specialized in digging up dirt on U.S. politicians. (AP Photo/Saurabh Das, File)
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Qatar is considering opening up trade routes through Iran to bring in Turkish products and circumnavigate a boycott by Arab countries.

Iran and Turkey became the two major suppliers of Qatar’s food imports after Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt severed ties the Doha government and suspended air, sea and land transport with in June.

The four countries accuse Qatar of supporting terrorist groups and attempting to destabilise the region. The quartet also accused Qatar of increasing relations with regional arch rival Iran.

Ministers from Qatar, Turkey and Iran met in Tehran on Saturday to weigh up plans for the expansion of trade and the possibility of shipping Turkish goods to Qatar through Iran, the Iranian Tasnim News Agency said.


Read our essential backgrounder on the Gulf dispute here: Qatar crisis: What you need to know


The meeting was attended by Iran’s communications minister, Mahmoud Vaezi, Turkey’s economy minister, Nihat Zeybekci, and Qatar's economy minister, Ahmed bin Jassim Al Thani.

Qatar has turned to Turkish products to fill what was once provided by Saudi Arabia, largely through it one land border. But the shipments of food and other products has come at significant cost. Iran has also sent shipments of food by sea.

Qatar’s foreign minister last month said his country can survive the boycott, but that it is costing “ten times as much” to import goods and continue their dealings.

Mr Zeybekci said earlier that Iran provides the best route for land transit when it comes to the Turkish exports to Qatar.

"We're thinking about alternatives for land trade routes with Qatar but the easiest way is passing through Iran," Mr Zeybekci told Turkey’s Anadolu Agency.

The discussion of land routes took place after the ministers attended the oath-taking ceremony of Iran's president-elect Hassan Rouhani on Saturday.

"We want to meet all of Qatar's needs. We want all good providers in Turkey to sell products, including cleaning materials, domestic appliances [...] and textile, in Qatar," Zeybekci stated.


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Trade between Turkey and Qatar increased in June and July, Mr Zeybekci said, adding: "We have to make this increase permanent."

While calling for a negotiated end to the dispute, Turkey has sided with Qatar. Along with helping supply food and other goods, Ankara sped up the deployment of troops to a base in Qatar.

Turkey's exports to Qatar totalled US$52.4 million (Dh192.5m) in June 2017, an increase from $36.2m in May 2017.

Mr Zeybekci said continuing to use cargo planes to carry products was not sustainable.

"We want to make it [transportation] economic, sustainable and reliable," he added.

"Shipment by sea will gain importance. We foresee that at least four large tonnage ships would go to Qatar monthly but the land route is an alternative for carrying flexible and smaller packages," Mr Zeybekci added.

The quartet issued 13 demands with which Qatar must comply before talks to end the dispute get underway. The demands include that Qatar expel Turkish forces and close down the base.

They also include that Qatar shuts down Al Jazeera, which they accuse of providing a platform for extremist groups.

Israel said on Sunday it planned to close Al Jazeera, after prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the broadcaster of incitement.

Mr Netanyahu said last week that he wanted Al Jazeera expelled amid tensions over the Al Aqsa mosque complex in Jerusalem.

"Al Jazeera has become the main tool of Daesh, Hamas, Hizbollah and Iran," communications minister Ayoob Kara, a member of the Druze community from Mr Netanyahu's Likud party, said.

He accused Al Jazeera of "inciting violence which has provoked losses among the best of our sons", referring to two Druze policemen who were killed in a July 14 attack near the Al Aqsa compound.

The communications ministry said that "nearly all countries in the region including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, have concluded that Al Jazeera incites terrorism and religious extremism."

It had become "ridiculous that the channel continued to broadcast from Israel".

The ministry said it would also demand the revocation of the credentials of journalists working for the channel and cut its cable and satellite connections.

Israeli authorities would also seek to limit access from Israel's Arab citizens to the station's broadcasts in Arabic, the communications ministry statement said.