No hope of ending Gulf crisis: Bahrain – Fears split may benefit Iran
RIYADH, May 27, (Agencies): Bahrain sees no resolution in sight to a diplomatic row between Qatar and its neighbours, which cut diplomatic and trade ties with the tiny Gulf Arab state nearly a year ago. “The information in our hands today does not indicate any glimmer of hope for a solution now, as the matter does not happen suddenly,” Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa told Alsharq Alawsat newspaper on Sunday. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt severed travel and trade ties with Qatar last June, alleging it was backing Iran and supporting terrorism. Qatar denies this and says the boycott is an attempt to impinge on its sovereignty and rein in its support for reform.
After initially disrupting Qatar’s imports and triggering the withdrawal of billions of dollars from its banks by depositors from the four states, the world’s top exporter of liquefied natural gas quickly developed new trade routes and deployed tens of billions of dollars from its sovereign wealth fund to protect its domestic lenders. The dispute has evaded mediation attempts by Kuwait and Washington, which has strong alliances with both sides and fears the split among Sunni Muslim US allies could benefit Iran in a decades-old tussle for influence in the Middle East.
Bahrain’s foreign minister said Qatar was prolonging the crisis by taking its case to Western allies, instead of dealing with it inside the Gulf Arab bloc. “We were expecting from the beginning of the crisis with Qatar that the emir of Qatar would go to Saudi (Arabia) but this did not happen,” he told the pan-Arab newspaper.
Saudi and UAE officials have said that Doha has yet to meet 13 demands made by the four states, including closing the state-funded Al Jazeera television station and reducing ties to Iran. UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said last week on Twitter that Qatar had not dealt wisely with those demands: “Perhaps the passing of a year of the boycott will produce a new thought and a wiser approach from Doha”.
Qatar has meanwhile, ordered shops to remove goods originating from a group of Saudi Arabian-led countries which a year ago imposed a wide-ranging boycott on the emirate, Doha officials said Saturday. A directive from the economy ministry ordered shops to immediately strip shelves of products from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt. Inspectors will visit stores to ensure they comply with the order, the ministry said.
The government will also try and stop products such as Saudi dairy goods from entering Qatar via a third country. Qatar’s Government Communications Office (GCO) said it was trying to “protect the safety of consumers”. “Products originating from blockading states, which as a result of the blockade cannot pass the GCC customs territory, has to undergo proper import inspections and customs procedures,” the GCO said in a statement. “Qatar conducts its trade policy in accordance with all of its multilateral and bilateral agreements.”
The order comes just days before the anniversary of a bitter Gulf crisis. Since June 5 last year, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt have cut all relations with Qatar, accusing it of financing terrorist groups and having close ties with Iran. The countries subsequently imposed a trade and diplomatic boycott on Qatar, which rejects the charges and says the countries are seeking regime change in Doha.
The row has forced isolated Qatar, which previously relied on its Gulf neighbours, to look elsewhere for food imports, including Turkey, Morocco and Iran. Many such imports enter the country via ports such as Kuwait and Oman. It is through these ports, and also via individuals, that goods from the boycotting countries manage to get in to Qatar, said a source with knowledge of the situation. “Businessmen from the blockading countries are trying to go around the blockade … by using third parties,” said the source.