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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Iran willing to help Qatar World Cup preparations, says Rouhani

The two states are looking to forge closer ties in the wake of international pressure

President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran. Iranian Presidency Office via AP 
President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran. Iranian Presidency Office via AP 

Iran is willing to assist with World Cup construction projects in Qatar as Tehran looks to boost co-operation between the two states, President Hassan Rouhani said.

Iranian state news agency Irna reported on Sunday that in a phone call with the Emir of Qatar, Mr Rouhani said Tehran was seeking stronger port and maritime co-operation, including a joint shipping line between the two countries to accelerate bilateral trade.

He also said that Iranian companies are willing to step in and assist on construction projects ahead of the controversial upcoming football Fifa World Cup in 2022.

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani reportedly said he was also seeking to develop ties with Tehran.

The announcement is likely to ruffle feathers in regional capitals and Washington.

In June 2017, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with Qatar saying the peninsula state was interfering in the internal affairs of its neighbours and supporting terrorist organisations. The quartet issued 13 demands, among which was that Doha sever ties with Tehran.

Iran has also been accused of supporting terrorism, including by the late Senator John McCain, who accused the country of sponsoring terrorism and "literally getting away with murder".

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The deep and strengthening of ties between Iran and Qatar is not just the result of last year's boycott by the quartet. The two share joint ownership of the South Pars/North Dome, the world's largest natural gasfield.

However, Washington's renewal of financial sanctions on Iran is likely to further isolate the Islamic republic and hurt its economy that, turn, is likely to lead Tehran to shore up regional alliances.

Many international companies – including France's Total, Peugeot and Renault, and Germany's Siemens and Daimler – have suspended operations in Iran following President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal.

Both Air France and British Airways announced on Thursday they were halting flights to Tehran next month, saying they were not commercially viable, but the British carrier added the decision was unrelated to the new sanctions.

The harsh penalties had been lifted under a landmark 2015 agreement, but a second round of measures will come into effect in early November. Phase two will target Iran's valuable oil and energy sectors.

On Monday, Iran is set to argue against the sanctions as a bitter legal battle opens before the UN's top court.

Tehran filed its case before the International Court of Justice in late July, calling on The Hague tribunal's judges to order the immediate lifting of sanctions, which it said would cause "irreparable prejudice".

The US had no right to reinstate such measures, Tehran added, as it demanded compensation for damages.

Iran maintained restoring the penalties lifted under the historic 2015 deal, aimed at curbing Tehran's nuclear ambitions, violated a decades-old treaty signed between the two nations in 1955.

Washington's lawyers will present their case on Tuesday, with experts believing they are to challenge the ICJ's jurisdiction.