DOHA - Qatar is to restore full diplomatic relations with regional power Iran, its foreign ministry announced Thursday, in a significant move at a time of diplomatic friction within the Gulf.

A statement from the ministry said Qatar aimed to bolster relations between the two countries, which share the world’s largest natural gas field.

“The State of Qatar announced today that its ambassador to Tehran will return to exercise its diplomatic duties,” read the statement.

Qatar was also seeking to “strengthen bilateral relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran in all fields”, it added. Doha pulled its ambassador from Tehran in January 2016 following attacks on the Saudi Arabian embassy, spurred by Riyadh’s decision to execute a Shia cleric in the kingdom.

The decision to restore ties comes as Qatar is locked in a diplomatic impasse with Iran’s great regional rival, Saudi Arabia, which has accused Doha of ties to Iran and support for extremist groups. Qatar denies the accusations.

On June 5, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates severed all diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar in what has become the worst political crisis to grip the Gulf region in decades.

Ironically, the crisis may have pushed Iran and Qatar closer together.

Qatar’s move may be seen as provocative among those countries which have cut ties, but Saudi Arabia and its allies have not yet responded.

Political and business leaders in Qatar have argued that they have to maintain ties with Iran because of the gas field, which Doha calls the North Field and in Tehran is known as South Pars.

Qatar has also turned to Iran to help food imports as previously most supplies came through Saudi Arabia, which sealed off Qatar’s only land border as part of the boycott.

Zarif says Iran, Saudi

to exchange diplomatic visits

Iran and Saudi Arabia will soon exchange diplomatic visits, Tehran said, in a possible sign of tensions easing after the archrivals cut ties last year.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told local media the visits would take place after this year’s hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, which is due to start at the beginning of September.

“Visas have been delivered for the two sides. The final steps need to be completed so our diplomats can go inspect our embassy and consulate in Saudi Arabia and for Saudi diplomats to come inspect their embassy and consulate,” Zarif told news agency ISNA.

It would be the first exchange of diplomats between the two countries since they cut ties in January 2016, after Iranians stormed Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Tehran in response to the execution of a prominent Shia cleric.

There have been signs of a thaw in relations in recent months, including an agreement to allow Iranians to participate in this year’s hajj, a pilgrimage that Muslims must perform at least once in their lifetimes if they are able to do so.

Iranians were unable to attend the hajj last year after talks on security and logistics fell apart.

Relations between Tehran and Riyadh have been at their worst in years, with the countries trading frequent accusations of meddling and supporting different sides in conflicts in Syria and Yemen.

Zarif urged Riyadh to reconsider its foreign policy.

“Saudi Arabia’s behaviour goes against its own interests. We want security and stability throughout the region and insist on the need to fight against the dangers that threaten us all,” he said.

“Saudi Arabia has not benefitted from two years of war and horrific acts against the Yemeni people, on the contrary,” he said. “It’s the same in Syria or in Bahrain. We hope they will choose another path.”