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Qatar's precarious position between Saudi Arabia, Iran

The recent decline in Saudi-Iranian relations has put GCC members in a bind, in particular Qatar, which for years has tried to maintain diplomatic and economic ties with Iran.
Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani (C) arrives in Mehrabad airport ahead of the 16th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran, August 30, 2012. REUTERS/Roohollah Vahdati/ISNA (IRAN - Tags: POLITICS) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS - RTR379P1

As the Middle East’s sectarian temperatures rise and the Saudi-Iranian geopolitical rivalry intensifies following Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr’s execution, Gulf Arab leaders frequently invoke the concept of Gulf Cooperation Council unity. A deeper analysis reveals, however, that most of the smaller Arabian Peninsula kingdoms’ diplomatic actions against Tehran in January were cautious, measured and ultimately aimed at advancing their respective national interests instead of solidarity among GCC members.

Qatar, which recalled its ambassador Jan. 6 but did not cut off ties with Tehran, is a case in point. Indeed, Doha’s diplomatic gesture against Iran did signal solidarity with neighboring Saudi Arabia. Yet, Qatar’s limited action indicates that Doha continues to tread carefully in the grander Saudi-Iranian geopolitical rivalry. The Qataris appear committed to pursuing their traditional foreign policy strategy of playing off both Gulf powers’ conflicting agendas to advance the Persian Gulf emirate’s own geopolitical interests.

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