U.S. Hopes a Small Step in Easing a Mideast Rivalry Could Further Rattle Iran’s Economy


“There is no fate-changing or existential disagreement between us and Qatar,” Mr. al-Mouallimi told RT Arabic. “We are one people and one country, and the Qatari brothers are an extension of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an extension of them.”

For a while, it seemed that Mr. Trump would side against Qatar.

As recently as last year, he considered naming the Muslim Brotherhood a foreign terrorist organization; the Islamist movement has renounced violence but has links to some extremist groups. It also has some ties to Qatar’s government, which is aligned with Islamist organizations that are modeled on the Brotherhood.

But given other American strategic priorities — including a U.S. military air base at Al Udeid, southwest of Doha, and Qatar’s hosting of peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban — the Trump administration gradually decided to mediate a way to reunite Qatar with its regional detractors.

The more important fight, it seemed, was against Iran.

Since 2018, when Mr. Trump withdrew the United States from an accord to limit Iran’s nuclear program, his administration has imposed punishing economic sanctions against Tehran and denied it an estimated $70 billion in oil revenues. That has contributed to what Mr. Pompeo described last month as a 25 percent cut in Iran’s military budget last year.

Mr. Pompeo, who has taken the toughest line against Iran among Mr. Trump’s advisers, has long insisted that Tehran’s income goes not to benefit the Iranian people, but to fund its missile programs and proxy militias it is backing in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

Easing pressure on Iran’s economy — which the Qatari overflight fees have helped to do — would be what Mr. Pompeo called “a dangerous choice, bound to weaken new partnerships for peace in the region and strengthen only the Islamic Republic.”

An agreement to reroute Qatar’s airlines would give the Trump administration one last kick at Iran. In terms of brokering a way out of the blockade, however, it would amount to only a glancing blow at the festering impasse among the Arab states.

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