In June, Qatar hosted secret talks between Venezuela and the United States. Doha has an extensive track record of assisting the United States in sensitive negotiations, including a recent prisoner swap with Iran and U.S.-Taliban backchanneling. Qatar’s emergence as a mediator in Venezuela has filled a void left by the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and other regional actors that are increasingly preoccupied with domestic economic and political crises or are perceived as pursuing biased agendas.
Doha has positioned itself as a neutral intermediary in Venezuela with minimal bad blood with all relevant parties. Crucially, Qatar did not follow suit when the United States endorsed opposition frontrunner Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president, nor when the Trump administration sanctioned President Nicolás Maduro under its “maximum pressure” policy. This strategic neutrality, coupled with Qatar’s vast financial resources and history of hosting U.S. negotiations with Iran and the Taliban, respectively, has strengthened its mediation credentials.
Acting as a go-between in U.S.-Venezuela talks offers Doha a low-risk solution to continue repairing its international reputation of neutral mediation, which was weakened by its interventionism during the Arab Spring. It also allows the country to hedge its security bets by proving useful to the United States, a key security guarantor, while maintaining relations with Iran—one of Venezuela’s closest economic and military partners in recent years.
Mediating in a Multipolar World
The global geopolitical landscape is shifting as countries are increasingly diversifying their economic and political relationships, particularly those like Venezuela, who face the fallout of Western sanctions. The rise of the Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS) bloc—with over 40 countries interested in joining—has underscored this move away from unipolarity. The BRICS’s development bank announced its intent to issue bonds and 30 percent of loans in local currencies by 2026, a step aimed at providing countries with a multipolar “alternative to the US-based financial order.”
At the BRICS summit in August, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, and the UAE, among other non-MENA countries, were invited into the bloc. This, in combination with multiple MENA states’ turn to China for mediation, as exemplified by the recent Saudi-Iran deal, is part of a broader regional pivot towards non-Western partners. While Qatar is discussing “de-dollarizing” its trade with Russia, it has not expressed interest in joining BRICS—in part because it may not be as willing as other regional powers to jeopardize its security arrangements with the United States.
In fact, Doha may believe that it can benefit from relationships with Latin American countries without BRICS. Qatar already has signed economic agreements with Brazil and other Latin American states, focusing on hydrocarbon and agricultural cooperation, and recently loaned Argentina $775 million to settle an IMF repayment. These relations are not purely altruistic, as Doha also stands to gain from developing energy sector ties with Venezuela, which has the world’s largest confirmed oil fields and could benefit from investments and knowledge-sharing.
But with Tehran’s growing interest in economic and military cooperation with Latin America—as Pentagon leaks revealed in April—Qatar may also become a critical intermediary for Iran. Doha has maintained relations with Tehran, facilitating talks to renew the nuclear deal, and top Qatari leadership met with Iran’s Foreign Minister this year to further strengthen ties. The 2017 Gulf crisis also increased engagement between the two countries.
Overall, Qatar’s relations with Iran and history of U.S.-Iran mediation afford it an advantage in dealing with Latin American countries that are growing closer to Tehran. This is particularly true for Venezuela in the wake of Maduro’s 2022 visit to Iran, where he signed a 20-year cooperation plan with President Ebrahim Raisi.
Qatar is thus strategically placed to mediate in an increasingly multipolar landscape rife with geopolitical rivalries. By investing in long-term relationships with a diverse array of actors, continuing to repair its reputation for neutrality, and capitalizing on its comparative strengths, Qatar has an opening to stand out as an emerging player in Latin American mediation.
This article was originally published in the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Sada on September 5, 2023.