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Russia, Qatar pushed to compromise. But will they?

A recent visit between Qatari and Russian officials indicate that in spite of their many differences, the two states may seek to cooperate.
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On Jan. 18, Qatar Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani  paid his first official visit to Russia, to meet with President Vladimir Putin. Since the Syrian war began, Russia and Qatar have been in opposing camps. Each perceives the other as a major spoiler in the conflict. Harsh rhetoric, often stylistically similar, sometimes flies both ways.

Before the new round of Geneva talks on Syria, now rescheduled for Jan. 29, Moscow continues to reconnoiter the ground of key regional and international players. In that regard, the talks with the emir were part of what came to be known in the Russian media as “the Middle East autumn.” Since September, Putin has hosted the presidents of Iran, Syria and Egypt; the prime ministers of Iraq and Israel; the Kuwaiti emir; the Saudi defense minister; the crown prince of Abu Dhabi; and — twice — the king of Jordan. At other venues, he has held negotiations with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and then Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud. This “Middle Eastern diplomacy marathon” — another euphemism savored by Russian journalists — was perceived as an indication of Russia’s serious interest in the region and its commitment to work with all regional stakeholders in the Syria crisis. Qatar was left out of this picture because of positions that Moscow and Doha found irreconcilable. In December, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov singled out disagreements with Qatar as “one of the major problems in the Syrian settlement process.”

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