Defiant Qatar emir meets Iran's Zarif

Doha (AFP) –


Iran's foreign minister held talks with the emir of Qatar Tuesday aimed at strengthening "co-operation," nearly four months into a Saudi-led blockade against the Gulf emirate.

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and Iran's Mohammad Javad Zarif met at a time of heightened Gulf tensions, with Qatari officials warning the ongoing Arab blockade would only drive Doha towards regional powerhouse Iran.

Qatar's state news agency said the pair discussed the impasse in the region, which has seen Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with Doha over its ties with Iran and accusations that it supports extremists.

"During the meeting, they reviewed relations of cooperation between the two countries in various fields as well as exchanged views on the current situation in the region," read the statement from Qatar News Agency.

Tuesday's visit was notable as it was Zarif's first since Qatar's political isolation began on June 5. The Iranian foreign minister on Monday visited Oman -- which has remained neutral on the Gulf crisis -- meeting with Sultan Qaboos in Muscat.

Qatar's relationship with Shiite-dominated Iran, seen as the major rival to Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia in the Middle East, is one of the major factors underpinning the crisis between Qatar and its former allies.

Last week, Qatar's foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani warned that the political and economic boycott imposed on Qatar was pushing Doha closer to Tehran.

"They accuse Qatar of being close to Iran but with their measure... they push Qatar towards Iran. They are giving Qatar like a gift to Iran," Sheikh Mohammed said in a speech in Paris.

Doha in January 2016 had pulled its ambassador from Tehran in solidarity with Saudi Arabia over attacks on its diplomatic mission there -- attacks spurred by Riyadh's decision to execute a prominent Shiite cleric in the kingdom.

But in August, Qatar announced it was restoring full diplomatic relations with Iran by returning its ambassador.

Qatar and Iran share the world?s largest natural gas field ? which Doha calls the North Field and Iran South Pars -- and which has been responsible for the emirate's dramatic transformation over the past 20 years