SAUDI, ALLIES THREATEN FURTHER STEPS – QATAR AGAIN DENIES ACCUSATIONS
MATTIS AFFIRMS US-QATAR COOPERATION … TILLERSON DUE
KUWAIT CITY, July 8, (Agencies): British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on Saturday progress could be made to heal a rift between Qatar and other Arab states, although a solution was unlikely to be found immediately. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Bahrain have cut diplomatic and transport ties with Qatar over accusations it was financing terrorism.
“My impression is progress can be made and there is a way forward,” Johnson said in a televised interview released to media after meeting senior government figures in Kuwait which is attempting to mediate between the two sides. “But I’m not going to pretend to you now that it is necessarily overnight or this is going to be done in the next couple of days,” he said.
Johnson, who held meetings on Friday with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, is due to travel to Qatar later on Saturday for meetings with its Amir and prime minister. “We think the blockade was unwelcome and we hope there will be a de-escalation,” Johnson said.
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis reaffirmed America’s strategic security partnership with Qatar on Thursday, the Pentagon said, amid a diplomatic crisis in the Gulf.
It was also announced that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will travel to Kuwait — the key mediator in the crisis — on July 10 to discuss the row. Mattis, who spoke with his Qatari counterpart Khaled bin Mohammed al-Attiyah by phone, discussed the status of operations against the Islamic State group. Qatar hosts a vital US-led command center at the Al-Udeid air base, where the anti-IS coalition launches raids against the jihadists.
“Secretary Mattis and Minister al-Attiyah affirmed their commitment to continued USQatar cooperation and deepening their strategic partnership,” a Pentagon readout of the conversation stated. Saudi Arabia is leading a four-country blockade of Qatar in the region’s biggest crisis in years. Mattis stressed the importance of de-escalating tensions “so all partners in the Gulf region can focus on next steps in meeting common goals,” the readout stated.
Tillerson due in Kuwait
The Trump administration is being drawn further into the crisis engulfing Qatar and many of its Gulf Arab neighbors, a diplomatic tussle that it wanted to avoid. Despite numerous US appeals for Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt to resolve their issues with Qatar on their own, the State Department said Thursday that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would visit the region next week in a bid to mediate a solution.
Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Tillerson would visit Kuwait, which has been trying to broker an agreement, on Monday after stops in Ukraine and Turkey. She said Tillerson would meet with Kuwaiti officials, but his presence in the region leaves open the possibility that he may try to shuttle between the neighboring countries to forge a resolution.
The US has been supporting Kuwait’s mediation efforts, but Tillerson’s trip will mark a new level of US involvement in trying to broker a resolution. Earlier Thursday, Nauert warned that the crisis over Qatar may not be quickly resolved. “We’ve become increasingly concerned that that dispute is at an impasse at this point,” she said. “We believe that this could potentially drag on for weeks; it could drag on for months; it could possibly even intensify.” She didn’t specify what type of escalation the US fears. But she said Tillerson remains in close contact with the countries involved.
Further steps eyed
Four Arab countries isolating Qatar vowed Friday to take additional steps against the energy rich Gulf state after it refused to accept their demands over allegations that it supports extremist ideology. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain accused Qatar in a joint statement carried on Gulf state media of thwarting all efforts aimed at resolving the rift and said it intends to “continue its policy aimed at destabilizing security of the region.” They vowed to “take all necessary political, economic and legal measures” against Qatar in a “timely manner.” They did not specify what those steps could include, though officials have previously suggested they could intensify efforts to isolate Qatar economically.
Qatar issued its response to the ultimatum in a hand-written letter from 37-year-old Amir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani that was delivered earlier this week to Kuwait, which is mediating the crisis. The contents of the letter have not been disclosed, but the anti-Qatar bloc described it as “negative” and failing to appreciate the gravity of the situation. Qatar has strenuously denied that it supports extremist groups. It is refusing to shutter Al-Jazeera, one of its best-known brands, and sees the ultimatum as an affront to its sovereignty.
Qatar denies accusations
Qatar on Friday dismissed as “baseless” accusations that it was financing terrorism, in its first public response to a statement from four Arab states which are leading a boycott against the tiny emirate.
In their statement, the four said the initial list of 13 demands they had put to Qatar was now void and they pledged further political, economic and legal steps against the emirate. In its first reaction to the statement from the four, Qatar dismissed as “baseless” the renewed accusations that it was interfering in the affairs of other states and financing terrorism.
“The State of Qatar’s position on terrorism is consistent and known for its rejection and condemnation of all forms of terrorism, whatever the causes and motives,” the state news agency said, quoting a senior foreign ministry source. Qatar was ready to “cooperate and review all claims that do not contradict the sovereignty of the State of Qatar,” it added.
Kuwait hails UK support
Kuwait’s First Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah applauded Britain’s support of Kuwaiti efforts to resolve the Gulf crisis as he received the British chief diplomat on Saturday.
The encounter with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was held with the attendance of Kuwait’s State Minister for Cabinet Affairs and Information Minister Sheikh Mohammad Abdallah Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah.
The Kuwaiti foreign minister also hailed longstanding ties with Britain, according to a Kuwaiti Foreign Ministry statement. For his part, his opposite British number expressed anxiety regarding the continuing crisis in the region as he called on all sides involved to contain the stalemate and hastily resolve the matter through dialogue. He also reiterated Britain’s support of Kuwaiti mediation efforts to resolve the crisis led by His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al- Sabah.
The encounter was also attended by Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Al- Jarallah, Deputy Foreign Minister for the Affairs of the First Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister’s Office Sheikh Dr Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah and Deputy Foreign Minister for Ceremonials Dhari Al- Ajran. Others were Deputy Foreign Minister for the Affairs of the Deputy Minister’s Office Aiham Al-Omar, Assistant Deputy Foreign Minister for the Affairs of the Office of the First Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Saleh Al-Loghani and other officials. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry spoke with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov by telephone on Thursday about Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain’s rift with Qatar, an Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
The four Arab states cut diplomatic and transport ties with the tiny Gulf nation last month, which they accuse of supporting terrorism and allying with regional foe Iran. Doha denies the charges. “Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry called Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday and affirmed Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain’s position of rejecting Qatar’s support for terrorism and extremism,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said in a statement. Shoukry and Lavrov also discussed the latest developments in Syria and agreed to meet soon in Cairo or Moscow, Abu Zeid said.