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Neutral power broker Qatar ‘well-placed’ to mediate between US-Venezuela: analysts

The small but powerful Gulf state has assumed key mediation roles over the past decade.

Reports of an alleged secret meeting in Qatar between the United States and Venezuela in June have raised speculations on yet another major mediating role by the seasoned Gulf power broker.

First reported by Spain’s El Pais, the rumoured meeting reportedly took place between the president of the Venezuelan National Assembly Jorge Rodríguez and Juan Gonzalez, an advisor to US President Joe Biden.

The sources had claimed that both Rodriguez and Gonzalez “met to establish a direct channel of communication”.

“In the meeting, they talked about the release of prisoners and the need to normalise political life in Venezuela,” the report said, citing the same sources.

While Qatari officials have not publicly spoken on the reported discussions nor announced an official mediating role, analysts believe the heavyweight diplomatic power is “well-placed” to assume such a position between the US and Venezuela.

Dr. Andreas Krieg, an Assistant Professor of Defence Studies at King’s College London, pointed to Doha’s neutral position as Caracas faces Western and American sanctions.

“Qatar has maintained a very neutral relationship in this regard. Plus, Qatar has really extended its networks in Latin America over the last couple of years. So for Latin Americans, Qatar increasingly appears to be also a trusted partner, particularly when it comes to energy,” Dr. Krieg told Doha News on Wednesday.

Tensions between Washington and the South American country spiked under the former US President Donald Trump, who had imposed sweeping sanctions on the country in a bid to exert maximum pressure on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

The sanctions hit Caracas as it faced a deepening economic crisis that led to a rise in inflation, forcing millions to starve and flee the country.

Trump’s perceived attempt to overthrow Maduro was widely seen by analysts as another US attempt to meddle in the affairs of Venezuela and the wider Latin American region.

In 2019, Maduro severed diplomatic ties with the US after it recognised opposition leader Juan Guaido as the interim president.

Notably, relations between the US and Venezuela have appeared to warm in recent months under the Joe Biden administration. In January, Maduro said he was open to normalising ties with the US following a visit by officials from the Biden administration.

Last year’s dialogue in Mexico between the US and Venezuela pointed to a possible breakthrough, with the US agreeing to release some $3-$5 billion of Caracas’ frozen funds abroad.

However, Venezuela said the Biden administration has yet to release the funds.

Tanner J. Manley, a research assistant for the Conflict and Transitions programme at the Middle East Council on Global Affairs, said that a significant breakthrough between the US and Venezuela still seems unlikely.

“A significant breakthrough seems unlikely, with Maduro so far unwilling to seriously consider setting an election date – one of the Biden administration’s key demands – and continuing to undercut the opposition,” the analyst told Doha News.

Manley added: “But regardless of the outcome of the negotiations, Doha will have proved its value to both parties as a trusted intermediary. It is a low-risk, high-reward situation for Qatar.”

Qatar’s regional strength

The small but powerful Gulf state has assumed key mediation roles over the past decade, from US talks with the Taliban as well as the latest milestone prisoner exchange deal between Washington and Tehran. 

“When it comes to the mediation between Iran and the US, the Qataris have shown that they’re able to get things done and delivered. And also most importantly that Doha has the ear of Washington, so if Qatar makes suggestions to the Americans, the Americans trust the Qataris as an ally,” Dr. Krieg explained.

Relations between Qatar and the US reached new heights last year when President Biden designated the Gulf state as a major non-NATO ally. With regards to Qatar’s ties with Venezuela, both countries have maintained cordial relations.

Last year, President Maduro travelled to Doha where he met with Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani to discuss the development of ties in the fields of energy, tourism, and investment.

“When it comes to Venezuela, Qatar is quite well placed to play this [mediating] role because of very good bilateral relations with both countries[…]if there is a willingness from both the US and Venezuela to talk to one another, I think the Qataris are probably the right party to broker this,” Dr. Krieg added.

Manley said Qatari mediation efforts would also fall under Doha’s foreign policy strategy.

“Hosting talks allows Doha to support a key security partner while maintaining diplomatic relations with a diverse array of states and other actors. Facilitating the talks offers Qatar a chance to show added value to the US and cultivate its image as a neutral mediator on the international stage,” he said.