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Blinken lands in Qatar to hold Iran talks and take in World Cup match

Top US diplomat to meet with Qatari officials to discuss Iran nuclear activity – in country that shares a massive offshore natural gas field with Tehran

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken talks to reporters during a press conference at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, APEC summit, Nov. 17, 2022, in Bangkok, Thailand. (AP Photo/Wason Wanichakorn)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken talks to reporters during a press conference at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, APEC summit, Nov. 17, 2022, in Bangkok, Thailand. (AP Photo/Wason Wanichakorn)

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — America’s top diplomat landed in Qatar on Monday to take in a World Cup match and hold talks as regional tensions remain high amid Iran’s rapid advancement of its nuclear program and nationwide protests shaking the Islamic Republic.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, a soccer fan and player himself, will attend as America faces Wales on Monday night at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium.

Blinken will also be holding crucial diplomatic talks with authorities in Qatar, one of the US’s trusted interlocutors with Iran. Doha shares a massive offshore natural gas field with Tehran.

Iran also provided airspace routes for Qatar Airways flights and supplied food shipments to Qatar amid a yearslong boycott of Doha by four Arab countries.

Blinken’s visit comes as part of a strategic dialogue with Qatar, which also hosts some 8,000 American troops at its massive Al-Udeid Air Base that’s the forward headquarters of the US military’s Central Command. The base served as a key node in America’s chaotic 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan and evacuation of Afghan civilians.

“Qatar is a steadfast and important partner to the United States, and US-Qatar ties continue to grow,” said Daniel Benaim, a deputy assistant secretary for the Arabian Peninsula Affairs at the State Department before Blinken’s trip.

Ecuador celebrates its opening goal by Enner Valencia during the World Cup, group A soccer match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Nov. 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

“Together, we’ve made important progress on a range of issues, including facilitating the travel of at-risk Afghans to the United States for new beginnings, strengthening regional security, and expanding commercial investment ties between our countries.”

One major issue to discuss is Iran. Nonproliferation experts say Iran now has enough uranium enriched up to 60% — a short step from weapons-grade levels — to reprocess into fuel for a nuclear weapon if it choose.

Tehran insists its program is peaceful, though it has drastically expanded its program since the collapse of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

Meanwhile, Iran is being rocked by monthslong protests following the death of a 22-year-old woman who had been earlier arrested by the country’s morality police.

A crackdown by authorities and violence surrounding the demonstrations have seen at least 419 people killed, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that’s been monitoring the protests. Iran is playing at the World Cup as well and will face the US on Nov. 29.

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