KUWAIT CITY, July 23, (Agencies): President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Sunday began a key trip to the Gulf aimed at defusing the standoff over Turkey’s ally Qatar, saying no one had an interest in prolonging the crisis.
Erdogan, whose country has come to Qatar’s aid in the dispute, had talks in Jeddah with King Salman who hailed the Turkish leader’s “efforts in the fight against terrorism and its financing,” Saudi state news agency SPA reported.
He also met Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman before leaving for Kuwait for the second leg of his tour.
Erdogan was received by His Highness the Amir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, who has been mediating to resolve the crisis.
On June 5, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt cut ties with Qatar, accusing it of backing extremism and fostering ties with their Shiite rival Iran.
Doha denies the claim and has been strongly backed by Ankara throughout the standoff.
The Turkish president will visit Qatar on Monday for his first face-to-face talks with Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani since the crisis began.
“No one has any interest in prolonging this crisis any more,” Erdogan said before leaving Istanbul.
He accused “enemies” of seeking to “fire up tensions between brothers” in the region.
Erdogan praised Qatar’s behaviour in the crisis, saying Doha had sought to find a solution through dialogue. “I hope our visit will be beneficial for the region,” he said.
The crisis has put Turkey in a delicate position, and Erdogan has repeatedly said he wants to see an end to the dispute as soon as possible.
In recent years, Qatar has emerged as Turkey’s number one ally in the Middle East, with Ankara and Doha closely coordinating over issues including the Syria conflict where both are staunch foes of President Bashar al-Assad.
Turkey is also setting up a military base in Qatar, its only such outpost in the region. It has expedited the process since the crisis began and reportedly now has 150 troops there.
“From the first moments of the Qatar crisis, we have been on the side of peace, stability, solidarity and dialogue,” said Erdogan.
But Turkey, which is also going through a turbulent time with the European Union and the United States, also does not want to wreck its own relations with regional kingpin Saudi Arabia.
“As the elder statesman in the Gulf region, Saudi Arabia has a big role to play in solving the crisis,” said Erdogan, taking care not to explicitly criticise the kingdom.
Erdogan said he supported the mediation efforts of Kuwait’s Amir, a possible indication Ankara sees Kuwait as the key to solving the crisis.
The Qatari Amir said Friday he was ready for talks to resolve the row as long as the emirate’s sovereignty is respected.
His call received a cold reception from the UAE’s state minister for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, who said he hoped the Amir had pledged to reconsider Qatar’s position.
“Dialogue is necessary, but it should be based on a revision” of Qatar’s stance, he tweeted.
Erdogan is likely to get a warm welcome in Doha where Turkey has been loudly applauded for sending in food, including fruit, dairy and poultry products by ship and by plane to help Doha beat an embargo.
Turkey has also benefited, with its exports to Qatar doubling in the past month to more than $50 million. According to the economy ministry, Ankara has sent around 200 cargo planes filled with aid since the crisis began.
Erdogan on Sunday reiterated his support for Kuwait’s mediation efforts exerted to resolve the Gulf crisis.
Speaking at a news conference before heading to Saudi Arabia in a tour to the Arabian Gulf area that would also take him to Kuwait and Qatar, Erdogan said His Highness the Amir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah has played an important role in the region since taking office.
He also praised Kuwait’s role in resolving the current Gulf rift and expressed regret over the recent developments in the area.
Erdogan would also discuss several issues with Gulf leaders, including the Syrian file and strengthening of relations between Ankara and other Gulf capitals.
Qatar, US discuss ties
Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and the visiting Commander of the US Central Command General (USCENTCOM) Joseph L. Votel on Sunday reviewed the strategic ties between the two countries, focusing on military cooperation.
Sheikh Tamim and the US delegation led by Votel discussed the joint US-Qatari anti-terror operations for supporting efforts to maintain security and stability in the region, the said Qatar News Agency. It added that Votel thanked the Amir for Qatar’s pivotal role in that respect.
The agency noted that the two sides also exchanged views on a host of regional and international issues of common concern.
Meanwhile, a non-profit rights group called on Sunday for an end to the “blockade” on Qatar, warning that the regional boycott against Doha has led to “forced separation” of families.
“We demand the countries that imposed the embargo on Qatar reverse their June 5 decision, compensate the victims and allow students to complete the academic year,” Abdelmajid Mrari of the Brussels-based rights group AFD International told a press conference in Doha.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt on June 5 cut all ties with Doha, recalling their ambassadors and banning Qatar from using their airspace. They accuse Qatar of ties to Shiite Iran and of supporting Islamist extremism, allegations the emirate has consistently denied.
The four Arab states also ordered all Qataris to repatriate, including students, and closed the country’s only land border with Saudi Arabia.
Some rights groups have raised concerns that the measure could split mixed families.
“Mothers have told me that children have become frightened, overwhelmed watching the news, terrified that they are going to be taken away from their mother, which no child should undergo, when it is a distinct violation of children’s right to a childhood,” said Mairead Tagg, a psychologist with AFD International.
“Childhood should not be characterised by terror, worry and separation, and forced separation from parents.”
Mogherini urges talks
European Union Foreign Affairs chief Federica Mogherini on Sunday called for swift direct talks to resolve the Gulf crisis between Qatar and its neighbours.
Mogherini’s call came after she met Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah and other officials and expressed EU support for Kuwait’s “relentless mediation efforts” in the dispute.
The Amir has been mediating to resolve the crisis after three Gulf states and Egypt cut ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting extremist groups.
Last month, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic ties with Qatar and imposed economic sanctions, including the closure of its only land border.
Mogherini in a statement on Sunday called on “all the parties to enter into negotiations to agree clear principles and a roadmap for a swift resolution of the crisis”.
She said the EU was ready to support the process of negotiations and assist in the implementation of a plan for the resolution of the crisis, in particular in the area of counter-terrorism.
Elsewhere, a top official in the Arab bloc isolating Qatar says the Gulf state needs to change its policies as part of any direct negotiations to resolve the crisis.
Qatari Amir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani said late Friday that Qatar is prepared to talk with the four countries lined up against it, but that any resolution must respect its sovereignty and the terms cannot be dictated from outside.
United Arab Emirates Minister of State for Foreign Relations Anwar al-Gargash responded in a Twitter post late Saturday that dialogue is necessary, but that Qatar must review its policies since repeating its previous positions only “deepens the crisis.”
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain cut ties and transport links with Qatar in early June.