Qatar likely to host Iran-US nuclear deal talks amid reports on Israeli defense alliance

Qatar is most likely to host the upcoming talks between Iran and the US, mediated by the European Union, to close the remaining gaps in efforts to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal. This comes amid talks about an Israeli regional air defense alliance under US.

Nour News, affiliated with Iran’s top security body, said in a statement posted on Twitter on Sunday that Doha has a “better chance” of hosting the forthcoming talks than other Gulf countries, given its “ongoing efforts to resume talks on lifting sanctions.”

The Nour News Twitter post reads: “After the end of Borrell’s visit to Tehran, the eyes have turned to the place, day and form of the forthcoming negotiations. Borrell had said the talks would not take place in Vienna. According to Nornews, Doha has a better chance of hosting the upcoming talks, given Qatar’s continued efforts in this regard.”

It comes a day after Iran and the EU agreed to break a three-month deadlock in the Vienna nuclear talks, following EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell’s meetings in Tehran with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and the head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkani.

In a presser after the marathon meetings, the top EU diplomat announced that the next round of talks will be held in coming days in a Persian Gulf country, as it would take place in a format different from the Vienna talks.

The forthcoming talks, he noted, will be between Washington and Tehran, mediated by his EU team, saying the economic and nuclear aspects of the deal have been fixed and now it all boils down to “political difficulties” between the two sides.

“But I still do not know if both will be able to overcome their respective political difficulties,” he added.

The key disagreements between Iran and the US that have led to the stalemate include the de-listing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-linked organizations and guarantees that the future US administration won’t walk out of the deal again.

Borrell stopped short of specifying the name of the host country, or even the exact date of the talks, fueling speculations that it could be either Oman or Qatar, two allies of Tehran.

Pertinently, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani visited Tehran last month and held wide-ranging talks with Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi, which included nuclear deal negotiations.

At a joint press conference, the Qatari leader said his country has “always had a positive view” of talks in Vienna, and believes that dialogue is the only way to reach a deal.

The visit led to speculations about mediation efforts by the Qatari ruler to break the stalemate in the Vienna talks and unfreeze Iran’s frozen assets abroad.

Interestingly, his visit to Tehran came a day after EU deputy foreign policy chief Enrique Mora landed in Tehran to hold talks with Iranian officials.

The Iranian government, however, is yet to come out with an official confirmation that Qatar will be hosting the forthcoming talks.

Israel says it is ‘building regional alliance’

 Israel is building a US-sponsored regional air defence alliance, the Israeli Defence Minister said on Monday, adding that the apparatus has already foiled attempted Iranian attacks and could be boosted by President Joe Biden’s visit next month, Reuters reports.

Drawing closer in recent years to US-aligned Arab states which share its Iran concerns, Israel has offered them defence cooperation. They have been publicly reticent on the idea.

Washington hopes more cooperation, especially on security, would help further integrate Israel in the region and isolate Iran. It may also preface more normalisation deals with Israel, including by heavyweight Saudi Arabia, following the forging of relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in 2020.

Unveiling what he dubbed the “Middle East Air Defence Alliance” in a briefing to Israeli lawmakers, Defence Minister, Benny Gantz, said such cooperation is already under way.

“Over the past year I have been leading an extensive programme, together with my partners at the Pentagon and in the US administration, that will strengthen the cooperation between Israel and countries in the region,” he said, according to an official transcript.

“This program is already operative and has already enabled the successful interception of Iranian attempts to attack Israel and other countries.”

The transcript did not name partner countries, give further details on the thwarted attacks nor provide details on the mechanics of the alliance.

The US Embassy in Jerusalem did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, an Israeli official said partner countries were synchronising their respective air defence systems through remote electronic communication, rather than using the same physical facilities.

Iran said joint military activities of Israel and some Arab countries in the Gulf are done “out of desperation”.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE governments did not immediately respond to requests for comments on the alliance mentioned by Gantz.

A Western diplomat in the region told Reuters last week that Washington was still working to convince Gulf Cooperation Council States as a bloc to agree on joining a US-Israeli integrated air defence system. The GCC groups Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman.

“(The proposal) would help to fill the gap left by the withdrawal of US hardware over the last two years from the region … and would draw Israel and Saudi Arabia closer to reaching a normalisation deal,” the diplomat said.

Riyadh, which was supportive of Israel’s rapprochement with its Gulf neighbours, has said normalising its own relations with Israel would need the creation of a sovereign Palestinian State, with Jerusalem as its capital.

“I hope that we will take another step forward in this aspect (of regional cooperation) during President Biden’s important visit,” Gantz said.

Biden is visiting the region 13-16 July, with stops in Israel and Saudi Arabia, where he will meet Arab leaders.

As tensions have mounted over Tehran’s nuclear programme, Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and parts of Iraq have come under UAV or missile strikes that were claimed by or blamed on Iranian-backed militias.

Gulf States had been frustrated over perceived reduced US commitment to regional security and for not addressing their concerns over Iran’s missile programme and regional proxies.