Iran Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi was in Qatar to sign what Tehran says is a defense cooperation accord with its smaller neighbor. Qatar also houses a major U.S. military base, as the small Gulf state plays a delicate balancing act between east and west.
It was a small ceremony, and both delegations clapped hands, as Iran's defense minister and Qatar's military chief of staff signed what was called a joint defense agreement. It was an unusual ceremony, since Iran has been at odds with the West over its nuclear program, and Qatar houses a major US military base.
Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi, who rarely travels abroad, attended the signing ceremony in Doha.
He says Iran and Qatar share mutually positive relations in all fields, and especially in important regional defense issues. He said they saw eye to eye after extensive consultations and that constructive cooperation between both countries was among the chief reasons for strengthening ties. He added Iran and Qatar's good relations are an example for other states in the region.
Iran's official Fars News Agency referred to the agreement as a "defense pact" that included "the exchange of technical experts and a widening of cooperation in training and campaigns against terrorism."
Vahidi's visit to Qatar coincided with a visit to Iran by a Qatari delegation pursuing expanded cooperation oil and gas production.
Alex Vatanka of Janes Defense Analyst says Tehran is hoping to show its smaller Sunni Arab Gulf neighbors that it has no ill-will towards them.
"The Iranians are saying, at the end of the day, we have no issues with our neighbors, we do not have any problems with Sunni Arab states," said Alex Vatanka. "It is just America making things up. This is everything Khamenei has been saying since he came down the other day to the Persian Gulf port of Bander Abbas for the launch of the Destroyer Jamaran, and they would point to these practical steps like the visit of Vahidi to Qatar or [Qatar's ruler] Sheikh Thani's visit to Tehran recently, and say: 'Look, these people are visiting us, these people are receiving our delegations, which proves that we have no problems with Arabs."
Vatanka says Qatar has not really agreed to anything concrete with the Iranians, other than a promise to cooperate and exchange delegations. But he says Qatar needs good relations with Tehran:
"Qataris, from their point of view, have always had very sour relations with Saudi Arabia, so for them having cordial ties with Iran makes a lot of sense," he said. "A tiny country of about 300,000 people which has one economic asset that it relies on, the North Field, the largest natural gas field in the world, and it shares it with its giant neighbor to the north. It cannot jeopardize relations with Iran over that oil field."
Despite Iran's repeated insistence over having good relations with its Gulf neighbors, Tehran has had a long-standing dispute with the United Arab Emirates over three small islands, which Iran now occupies militarily. Sunni Arab Gulf states have also complained Tehran creates problems for them by stirring up large Shi'ite minorities in Bahrein, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.