RUSSIA, FRANCE, EU SUPPORT KUWAITI MEDIATION
CAIRO, July 5, (Agencies): Arab states that have cut ties with Qatar vowed Wednesday to maintain their boycott of the emirate, criticising its “negative” response to their list of demands to end the diplomatic crisis. Qatar appealed for “dialogue” to resolve the row while US President Donald Trump spoke to Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah el-Sisi from aboard Air Force One to urge all parties “to negotiate constructively”. The foreign ministers of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, meeting in Cairo, “regret the negative response from Qatar,” they said in a statement.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said Qatar’s response to the bloc’s conditions had “no substance” and “reflects a lack of understanding of the gravity of the situation”. The talks in Cairo came a month after the four countries severed ties with Qatar, accusing Doha of supporting extremism. “The boycott will remain,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al- Jubeir said at the same news conference in the Egyptian capital The four Arab states stopped short of announcing new sanctions but Jubeir said they would “take steps at the appropriate time”. The demands include Doha ending support for the Muslim Brotherhood and closing broadcaster Al-Jazeera.
Saudi Arabia and its allies have not said what steps they could take next, but there are fears of a wider embargo that would hurt the Qatari economy, with credit ratings agency Moody’s announcing it was changing Qatar’s outlook to negative over the crisis. The countries issued the 13-point list of demands on June 22, giving Qatar 10 days to respond.
The deadline was extended by 48 hours on Sunday at the request of Kuwait, which is mediating in the crisis, and Qatar handed in the response on Monday. The contents of the response have not been disclosed, but Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said Tuesday that the list of demands “is unrealistic and is not actionable”.
Qatar has denied any support for extremism and accused the countries of seeking to infringe on its sovereignty. The other demands include Qatar downgrading ties with Iran — Saudi Arabia’s regional arch-rival — and shutting down a Turkish military base in the emirate. Qatar has said repeatedly it is ready for talks on the crisis, and Sheikh Mohammed reiterated that on Wednesday. “We welcome any serious efforts to resolve our differences with our neighbours,” he told the Chatham House thinktank in London. He accused Saudi Arabia and its regional allies of “demanding that we must surrender our sovereignty as the price for ending the siege”. Riyadh and its supporters have severed air, sea and ground links with Qatar, cutting off vital routes for imports including food.
They also ordered Qatari citizens to leave their territories and took various steps against Qatari firms and financial institutions. The crisis has raised concerns of growing instability in the region, home to some of the world’s largest energy exporters and key Western allies who host US military bases. Energy-rich Qatar has been defiant throughout the crisis, insisting it can weather action taken against it.
On Tuesday it even announced a major boost in planned natural gas output, with Qatar Petroleum saying it would increase production to 100 million tonnes a year by 2024, up 30 percent from current levels.
Qatar is the world’s leading producer of liquefied natural gas. Its energy riches have transformed Qatar into one of the world’s wealthiest countries, a major international investor and a regional player that will host the 2022 football World Cup.
Concern has been growing, however, that a drawn-out crisis could have an economic impact. Moody’s said it was changing its credit rating outlook for Qatar to negative from stable, citing “the economic and financial risks arising from the ongoing dispute”. “The likelihood of a prolonged period of uncertainty extending into 2018 has increased and a quick resolution of the dispute is unlikely over the next few months,” the agency said. Some critics of Qatar have accused it of links to extremist organisations including the Islamic State group, al- Qaeda and Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah movement. But a British think-tank said Wednesday that foreign funding for Islamist extremism in Britain mostly originates from Saudi Arabia.
Russia on Wednesday expressed its support for Kuwait’s efforts as the main mediator in the Gulf crisis. At the end of his meeting with the Arab League’s Secretary General Ahmad Abul-Gheit, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Moscow backs Kuwait as the country attempts to quell the ensuing rift between the Gulf neighbors.
The Russian Foreign Minister noted that his country stands ready to join efforts to solve the conflict, if asked. Lavrov also underscored the need to quell the unrest through productive dialogue. France also reiterated its support for the mediation of Kuwait in the current Gulf crisis around Qatar, saying the Kuwaiti initiative was positive in helping promote dialogue between the parties. “France invites the Gulf Arab States to settle the differences they evoke through consultations,” the French Foreign Ministry said. “We reiterate our support for the mediation brought by Kuwait, which constitutes a positive undertaking in favour of dialogue,” Paris added. Kuwait has played a crucial role in mediating between the parties and in shuttle diplomacy to encourage restraint and dialogue, and also to extend deadlines in the dispute.
Meanwhile, the European Union is actively supporting the Kuwaiti mediation efforts to resolve the ongoing crisis in the Gulf, EU High Representative Federica Mogherini announced Tuesday.
The EU foreign policy chief in a statement said she is taking part in a number of high level engagements to de-escalate the situation with the backing of the 28 EU Member States, and she is in contact on a daily basis with all the relevant players including the foreign ministers of Kuwait, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. She noted that last Friday she met in Croatia with Kuwait’s Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs and Acting Information Minister, Sheikh Mohammad Al- Abdullah Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah, and underlined the importance of the unity and stability of the Gulf region and the “urgent need for a dialogue to avoid further escalation and resolve differences.”
Both agreed that a solution should be found within the framework of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and that other countries should not be drawn into the dispute. Mogherini also met with the Foreign Minister of Qatar, Sheikh Mohammad Al-Thani, at the beginning of June. There she spoke of the good relations the EU has with the GCC, the interconnectedness of the region and that restoring a good level of regional cooperation in the Gulf is “key for the benefit of all citizens of the Gulf, of all people in the Gulf.” In an effort to engage all parties concerned, Mogherini also spoke with the foreign ministers Adel Al-Jubeir of Saudi Arabia and Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran. She also met Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of the United Arab Emirates, Anwar Gergash, in Brussels on 20 June. “All together, we encourage de-escalation and most of all we encourage all Gulf countries to engage in political dialogue without preconditions accepting the mediation role of Kuwait,” the High Representative said. The EU is “ready to help, assist and accompany these mediation efforts in all ways that might be requested,” she added. Mogherini restated that “the European Union has the firm intention to keep strong relationships and ties with all the Gulf countries and we hope that they will manage to restore good working relations among them.”
Views in line
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el- Sisi spoke with US President Donald Trump in a telephone call about the dispute with Qatar, Sisi’s office said on Wednesday. “The visions of the two presidents on dealing with current regional crises were in line, especially when it comes to reaching political settlements which contribute to regional security and stability,” Sisi’s office said in a statement. Qatar faces possible expulsion from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a regional economic and security cooperation body founded in 1981, if its response to the demands fails to satisfy the four Arab states.
Only GCC can suspend
Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa said any decision on ending Qatar’s membership would come from the GCC itself and that such a measure would be on the table when the council next meet.
Meanwhile, the UN’s political chief, Jeffrey Feltman, is in Kuwait for talks on ending the diplomatic crisis between Qatar and its Gulf neighbors, a spokesman said Wednesday. The senior UN envoy stepped in as Arab states vowed to maintain their boycott of the emirate, jointly criticizing its “negative” response to their list of demands to end the crisis.
Feltman, who is UN under-secretarygeneral for political affairs, “is there currently to discuss with a broad range of interlocutors the ongoing crisis in the region and other conflicts,” said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres dispatched Feltman to the Gulf after meeting with Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani last week.
Feltman arrived in Kuwait from the United Arab Emirates and will travel to Doha later this week. The United Nations has backed efforts by Kuwait to mediate an end to the crisis and has also offered to help broker a solution.