Foreign Relations

Persian Gulf States Table of Contents

The Iraqi invasion and occupation of Kuwait and the resulting threat to other small gulf states forced Qatar to alter significantly its defense and foreign policy priorities. For example, whereas Qatar had supported Iraq financially in its 1980-88 war against Iran, Qatar quickly joined the anti-Iraq coalition after the invasion. Formerly a political and economic supporter of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Qatar bitterly condemned the alliance between the PLO and many Palestinians on the one hand and Saddam Husayn on the other hand. Moreover, Qatar's previous opposition to superpower naval presence in the gulf turned into an open willingness to permit the air forces of the United States, Canada, and France to operate from its territory.

The GCC, which for years had been aimed, in part, at dealing with a perceived Iranian threat (both external and, in the cases of Kuwait, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia, internal), became a forum for condemnation of Iraq and a venue for building a concerted defense against further Iraqi advances. After the Iraqi defeat, Qatar and other GCC members focused their energies on improving cooperation and coordination on mutual defense issues while also continuing to work together in social, cultural, political, and economic spheres. Qatar, like Saudi Arabia, has been historically sensitive to outside military intervention in the gulf and was eager to bolster regional security measures.

The war also drew Qatar and other GCC members closer to Egypt and Syria, the two strongest Arab members of the anti-Iraq coalition. The Qatari-Egyptian rapprochement began in 1987 when the two countries resumed diplomatic relations after the League of Arab States (Arab League) summit that adopted the resolution allowing members to reestablish diplomatic links at their discretion. After the war, Egypt and Syria received large sums from the gulf states in appreciation for their roles. Qatar and Syria signed an agreement on trade and economic and technical cooperation in January 1991.

Even before August 1990, Qatar historically had close relations with its larger and more powerful neighbor, Saudi Arabia. Because of geopolitical realities and the religious affinity of the two ruling families (both adhere to the conservative Wahhabi interpretation of Islam), Qatar followed the Saudi lead in many regional and global issues. Qatar was one of the few Arab countries that observed the full forty-day mourning period after the assassination of Saudi Arabia's King Faisal ibn Abd al Aziz Al Saud in March 1975 and the death of King Khalid ibn Abd al Aziz Al Saud in 1982. The two countries signed a bilateral defense agreement in 1982, and on several occasions Saudi Arabia acted as mediator in territorial disputes between Qatar and Bahrain.

Qatar also has had cordial relations with Iran, despite Qatar's support of Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War. In 1991 Shaykh Hamad ibn Khalifa welcomed Iranian participation in gulf security arrangements. Iran was one of the first countries to recognize Shaykh Khalifa ibn Hamad in 1972. Relations were based partially on proximity (important trade links exist between the two countries, including a ferry service between Doha and Bushehr) and partly on mutual interests. Plans were being formulated in 1992 to pipe water from the Karun River in Iran to Qatar. The Iranian community in Qatar, although large, is well integrated and has not posed a threat to the regime. Iran's claim in May 1989 that one-third of Qatar's North Field gas reservoir lay under Iranian waters apparently was resolved by an agreement to exploit the field jointly.

Relations with Bahrain continue to fluctuate between correct and strained, with tensions rising regularly over territorial disputes dating back for decades. Most of the friction involves Hawar and the adjacent islands, which both countries claim. Tensions rose most recently in July 1991 when, according to reports, Qatari naval vessels violated Bahraini waters, and Bahraini jet fighters flew into Qatari airspace. The issue was referred in August to the International Court of Justice in The Hague to determine whether it had jurisdiction over the dispute. Other disputes have involved the abandoned town of Az Zubarah, on the northwest coast of Qatar. The most serious crisis took place in April-June 1986, when Qatari forces raided Fasht ad Dibal, a coral reef in the gulf north of Al Muharraq in Bahrain that had been artificially built up into a small island. They took into custody twenty-nine workers who were sent by Bahrain to build a coast guard station. The workers were released in May, and installations on the island were destroyed. Qatar submitted the dispute to the International Court of Justice at The Hague, but Bahrain refused the jurisdiction of the court in June 1992. The dispute was ongoing as of early 1993.

Britain's historical role in the gulf has guaranteed a special relationship with its former protectorates. Qatari- British relations are tempered by a complex blend of suspicion and cordiality. On the one hand, Qataris are wary of the former colonial power because they remember instances when they were ill-served by their "protector," especially regarding the exploitation of oil. On the other hand, the long-term British presence in the gulf has fostered many fruitful political, economic, and cultural ties between the two countries. The British Embassy in Doha, for example, is the only foreign mission that owns its land outright. In addition, many Britons advise or work for the Qatari government at high levels. British banks and other businesses are well represented in Doha. Many Qataris attend university in Britain, own homes there, and visit regularly.

Relations with the United States have been generally proper but took a sudden turn for the worse in March 1988 when United States-made Stinger missiles (obtained through unsanctioned channels) were observed at a military parade in Doha. When the Qatari government refused to relinquish the weapons to the United States or to allow an inspection, the United States instituted a policy of withholding military and economic cooperation. The Stinger issue was settled when Qatar destroyed the missiles in question in 1990. Furthermore, both sides acknowledged the need to cooperate militarily in the face of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm greatly improved Qatar's image of the United States as a desirable security partner and resulted in changed bilateral military relations. On June 23, 1992, Qatar and the United States signed a bilateral defense cooperation agreement that provided for United States access to Qatari bases, pre-positioning of United States matériel, and future combined military exercises.

Following Saudi Arabia's lead, Qatar refused for many years to have diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. This changed in the summer of 1988, when Qatar announced the opening of relations at the ambassadorial level with the Soviet Union and with China. In the wake of the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Qatar established relations with the newly independent Russian Federation.

Qatar became a member of the United Nations in September 1971, soon after it proclaimed independence. It was a member of several of its specialized agencies, including the International Civil Aviation Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Labour Organisation, the World Health Organization, the Universal Postal Union, and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress