DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Iran, under sweeping economic sanctions, was hawking weapons on Wednesday at a Qatari defense exhibit, a surprising sight at the major conference also showcasing American companies and fighter jets.
Hidden in the far left corner of the carpeted convention center, commanders from Iran’s defense ministry marketed their missiles and air defense weapons systems. The defense ministry manufactures arms for both Iran’s military and its powerful paramilitary Islamic Revolutionary Guard, a group that plays a singular role in the creation and execution of Iran’s national security and foreign policy.
The DIMDEX exhibition serves to promote Qatar, a major non-NATO ally of the United States that’s home to the largest American military base in the Middle East. The tiny Gulf Arab country, however, also maintains good relations with Iran, with which it shares the world’s largest gas field.
Iranian commanders declined to speak with The Associated Press. They handed out brochures to an AP journalist promoting their homemade jet trainers, helicopters and hovercraft.
The Qatari armed forces chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Salem al-Nabet, toured Iran’s pavilion before the exhibition wrapped up, inspecting displays of lethal merchandise in glass cases and listening to a commander’s sales pitch about machine guns. A giant American flag representing U.S. military contractor General Atomics Aeronautical Systems could be seen hanging just beside the Iranian stand.
Notably, Iran’s pavilion cannot be found on the conference map. The country’s defense ministry and armed forces logistics remain under crushing U.S. sanctions over suspected illegal weapons trade.
The Revolutionary Guard, for its part, is widely regarded as a toxic business partner for its designation as a terrorist group by the Trump administration, its global reputation for meddling in regional conflicts and sanctions over its ballistic missile programs and alleged human rights violations.
With talks to restore Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers nearing a resolution four years after former President Trump abandoned it, the possible removal of the Guard’s terrorism designation has drawn fierce criticism from America’s Mideast allies, like Israel.
The U.S. has balked at the Iranian demand, barring commitments from Tehran to stop funding and arming extremist groups in the region and beyond. Nuclear negotiators have yet to reconvene in Vienna.