UNITED NATIONS, July 19, (Agencies): Four Arab nations that cut ties with Qatar urged the tiny Gulf nation Tuesday to commit to six principles on combatting extremism and terrorism and negotiate a plan with specific measures to implement them — a step that could pave the way for an early resolution of the crisis.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain broke diplomatic relations with Qatar in early June largely over their allegations that it supports terrorist and extremist groups — a charge Qatar rejects. They initially made 13 demands, which Qatar also dismissed.
Saudi Arabia’s UN Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi told a briefing for a group of UN correspondents that the four nations are now committed to the six principles agreed to by their foreign ministers at a meeting in Cairo on July 5, and hope Qatar will support them as well.
The principles include commitments to combat extremism and terrorism, prevent financing and safe havens for such groups, and suspend all acts of provocation and speeches inciting hatred or violence.
Al-Mouallimi said the four-nation quartet thinks it “should be easy for the Qataris to accept” the six principles. He stressed that implementation and monitoring must be “essential components,” and “there will be no compromise when it comes to principles.”
But he said both sides can talk about details of “the tactics” and “the tools” to implement them — “and that’s where we can have discussion and compromise.”
The Saudi ambassador explained that the initial 13 points included some principles and some tools to achieve compliance.
Mixed in the 13 points were what Western nations might see as fair demands, such as cracking down on support for extremists and curbing ties with Iran, and tougher-to-swallow calls to shut down the Al-Jazeera television network — one of Qatar’s best-known brands — and kick out troops from NATO member Turkey, which has a base in Qatar.
Al-Mouallimi stressed that stopping incitement to violence is essential, but he said closing Al-Jazeera might not be necessary.
“If the only way to achieve that is by closing down Al-Jazeera, fine,” he said. “If we can achieve that without closing down Al-Jazeera, that’s also fine. The important thing is the objective and the principle involved.”
UAE Minister of State for International Cooperation Reem Al Hashimy said all the countries involved have strong relations with the United States “and we believe that the Americans have a very constructive and a very important role to play in hopefully creating a peaceful resolution to this current crisis.”
President Donald Trump has sided strongly with Saudi Arabia and the UAE in the dispute, publicly backing their contention that Qatar is a supporter of Islamic militant groups and a destabilizing force in the Middle East.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently concluded several days of shuttle diplomacy and sealed a deal to intensify Qatar’s counterterrorism efforts. The memorandum of understanding signed by the US and Qatar lays out steps Qatar can take to bolster its fight against terrorism and address shortfalls in policing terrorism funding.
Al Hashimy called the MOU “an excellent step.”
“We’d like to see more of that,” she said. “We’d like to see stronger measures taken and stronger commitment made to address that.”
Al Hashimy said “at this stage the ball is in Qatar’s court.”
“We’re looking for a serious change in behavior, serious measures,” she said. “No more talk.”
Qatar has further escalated the situation by encouraging Turkey’s military presence, Al Hashimy said.
“We do not want to see a military escalation of any kind,” she said. “We hope to be able to resolve this internally and among ourselves with the assistance of strong mediation, whether it’s from the US or the Kuwaitis.”
Al-Mouallimi stressed that Qatar’s future lies with its neighbors not with “faraway places,” a clear reference to Turkey and Iran which are supporting Doha.
“Our Turkish brothers need to recognize that the era of covert and to some extent unwanted intervention in the Arab world has long gone,” he said. “If Turkey wants to play a constructive role they are welcome to do so, but trying to find the role through military bases or military intervention would not be productive, and would not fare well for Turkey’s reputation in the Arab world.”
Diplomats from the four countries who attended the briefing said there have been discussions about possible next steps.
UAE Ambassador Lana Nusseibeh said that “if Qatar is unwilling to accept core principles around what defines terrorism or extremism in our region, it will be very difficult” for it to remain in the Gulf Cooperation Council with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain.
“So it may be a parting of ways for a little while in order to work things out,” she said.
Al-Mouallimi said the quartet briefed the 10 elected Security Council members Tuesday and hopes to meet the permanent members as well.
There are no plans to take the dispute to the UN’s most powerful body, he said, but “if we develop the conviction that is a necessary move forward, then we will do so.”
Jazeera closure dropped
Demands that Al Jazeera be shuttered have been dropped by the four Arab nations engaged in a deep diplomatic dispute with Qatar, the home base of the pan-Arabic news network.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain, which broke off diplomatic ties with Qatar in early June, said Wednesday that they had revised the initial list of 13 demands they presented to Qatar in order to mend the rift. Among the dropped demands is the one concerning the closure of Al Jazeera, the most-watched news outlet in the Arab world, the Associated Press reported.
The four Arab nations had cut ties with Qatar accusing it of supporting Islamic terrorists and Iran. Qatar denies the allegations and has resisted its neighbors’ demands.
Speaking Wednesday at a news conference in New York, diplomats from the four countries urged Qatar to commit to six principles on fighting extremism and terrorism but refrained from mentioning any specific measures in what is widely considered a much softer stance and a diplomatic overture aimed at solving the standoff.
US President Donald Trump has sided with Saudi Arabia and the UAE in the dispute, but Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson has reportedly been trying to mend fences.
“Al Jazeera Media Network rejects any external intervention pertaining to its journalistic mission, or any other demand, and reiterates its independence and professional editorial stance,” the broadcaster said on Wednesday in a statement commenting the dropped demand.
“It’s clear that recent attempts by governments in the region and elsewhere to throttle the independence of the media are being met by condemnation by all leading international media institutions, with an urgent demand for an end to interference, intimidation, and threats,” the statement went on to note.
“Our obligation is to our loyal global audience and we assure to them, that we will continue to serve them with integrity and impartiality and refuse to take orders from governments or anyone else pertaining to our editorial independence and the Network’s operation,” it said.
The diplomatic dispute in June caused Saudi Arabia to immediately shut down Al Jazeera’s bureau in Riyadh, revoking its broadcasting licence.
The Qatar-based satellite news network was subsequently banned in several neighboring countries, including the UAE, which also blacked out the sports channels of Al Jazeera’s closely affiliated beIN Media Group. This resulted in sports fans in the UAE being deprived of most premium content including soccer, NBA basketball and Formula One races. It remains to be seen whether Al Jazeera and beIN will go back on air in the countries where their services have been pulled.
Rasgas postpones layoffs
Majority state-owned Qatari gas producer Rasgas has postponed a round of job cuts after the diplomatic crisis which erupted between Qatar and its neighbours in early June, people familiar with the matter have told Reuters.
Staff at Rasgas were told earlier this year that they would be laid off in June, with the job cuts following last year’s decision to merge Rasgas with Qatargas, the two liquefied natural gas divisions of Qatar Petroleum.
But in a company email last month staff were informed that the job cuts had been delayed, two Rasgas employees said.
It was not immediately clear whether the delay meant the entire merger had been postponed.
The move comes as Qatar works to cope with sanctions imposed by Saudi Arabia and other Arab states, striking trade deals and cancelling the leave of foreign expatriate workers in “essential government sectors” to help cope with the crisis.
“The layoffs were postponed. No reason was given,” said one of the employees, who declined to be named. A Rasgas spokeswoman was not available to comment.
Qatar Petroleum’s chief executive said at the end of last year the merger of RasGas and Qatargas would help to cut operating costs by hundreds of millions of dollars at the world’s largest LNG producer, and another group official familiar with the plan said hundreds of people would be laid off.
An official working at a Gulf energy company said Doha was apparently postponing the layoffs because it needed to focus the attention of leaders and managers on the diplomatic crisis, which has disrupted some imports into the country.
“I still think the job cuts will happen in the long run, as the Rasgas-Qatargas merger will go ahead and many of the jobs are duplicated across both organisations,” said the official.
“This seems to be a case of ‘we currently have bigger fish to fry than a fast merger’.”
Last month Qatar announced plans to expand its LNG production capacity by 30 percent and build infrastructure to bolster its role as a major global supplier amid rising LNG output from Australia and the United States.
“With the political crisis and this output expansion, it is all hands on deck,” said a Qatar Petroleum official.
RasGas currently has a production capacity of about 37 million tonnes a year of LNG, according to its website. It is a 70/30 percent joint venture between Qatar Petroleum and Exxon Mobil.