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Turkey terms Saudi talks ‘positive’ – London affirms backing of Kuwait mediation

MAKKAH, Saudi Arabia, June 17, (Agencies): Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu held talks in Saudi Arabia on Friday with King Salman, continuing efforts to resolve the Gulf’s biggest diplomatic crisis in years. Diplomatic sources told AFP that “the meeting was positive”, but there were no specifics. Riyadh, the UAE, Egypt and others severed diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar almost two weeks ago, accusing Doha of supporting groups, including some backed by Iran, “that aim to destabilise the region”. Qatar denies any such support for extremists.

Cavusoglu travelled to the holy city of Makkah where Salman is based for the last ten days of Ramadan, after meeting his Kuwaiti counterpart on Thursday. The Amir of Kuwait, which did not cut ties with Qatar, has also been trying to mediate. Turkey’s chief diplomat was in Doha on Wednesday where he called for dialogue after meeting Qatar’s Amir and foreign minister ahead of his Saudi stop. “Although the kingdom is a party in this crisis, we know that King Salman is a party in resolving it,” Cavusoglu said earlier. “We want to hear the views of Saudi Arabia regarding possible solutions and will share with them our views in a transparent way… We pay a great attention to our relations with them,” he said.

The crisis has put Turkey in a delicate position as Ankara regards Qatar as its chief ally in the Gulf but is also keen to maintain its improving ties with regional power Saudi Arabia. At the same time, Turkey is eager to maintain workable relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s foe. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday described the decision by Gulf states to cut political and economic ties with Qatar as “inhumane and un-Islamic”.

He stopped short of directly criticising Saudi Arabia and said that as “the elder statesman of the Gulf,” Salman should resolve the matter. Among the punitive measures, Qatar Airways is banned from the airspace of its neighbours, Gulf states gave Qataris 14 days to get out, and Saudi closed its land border through which much of Qatar’s food supply crossed. Saudi Arabia said Saturday a Turkish military base similar to that built in neighbouring Qatar would not be welcome in the kingdom, insisting it is “not needed”.

The statement came after Erdogan reportedly said he had offered to build a military base in the Muslim kingdom shortly after work began on Turkey’s facility in Qatar. “The kingdom cannot allow Turkey to set up a military base on its territory,” said a statement carried by SPA state news agency. The statement, quoting an unnamed official, said Saudi Arabia “does not need such thing”, adding that its armed forces and military capabilities were “at the best standards”. The official said Saudi armed forces were participating abroad, including from Turkey’s Incirlik base, “in the fight against terrorism and protecting security and stability in the region”. Erdogan told Portuguese television this week that he had approached the Gulf state’s King Salman “with the same idea for Saudi” after work began on the base in Qatar in 2014. “I made the same offer to King Salman … and said that if it’s appropriate we could also establish a base in Saudi Arabia. They said they would look into it but since that day nothing more came,” he said.

Qatar push unresolved
Qatar’s efforts to force its Gulf neighbors to reopen their airspace to its flights were left unresolved on Friday, two sources familiar with the matter said, after Saudi Arabia argued the closure was part of a bigger political rift that could not be fixed by the United Nation’s aviation agency.

Two days of technical talks involved transport ministers and aviation officials from several Gulf states and Egypt, along with senior officials from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a specialized agency of the UN that supports the development of global aviation. ICAO cannot impose rules on states, but regulators from its 191-member countries almost always adopt and enforce the standards it sets for international aviation.

Qatar had asked the ICAO to intervene after its national carrier was denied access to its neighbors’ airspace as part of economic sanctions. It was the first high-level gathering of countries involved in the Gulf crisis, but there were no direct talks between Qatar and its neighbors. While the air dispute might come up at a scheduled meeting of ICAO’s governing council next week, no decision on the Gulf airspace dispute is imminent, one of the sources said. “Nobody was expecting a resolution this week,” the source added. Both sources spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks are private. Neither Qatar’s ambassador to Canada, who led his country’s delegation for the talks, nor a member of the Saudi delegation could be reached for comment. ICAO had no immediate comment.

UK, Gulf FMs meet
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson held separate talks in London Friday with three Arab Gulf Foreign Ministers to discuss the dispute between their countries and Qatar. Johnson met with Bahrain’s Sheikh Khaled Al-Khalifa, Saudi Arabia’s Adel Al-Jubair and UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gergash, the foreign office said in a statement. Johnson called on importance of deescalation and to find a rapid solution to the dispute through mediation and dialogue, it said. Johnson called last Tuesday Kuwait’s First Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, and thanked him on mediation efforts carried out by His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al- Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah towards ending the dispute.

Meanwhile, Alistair Burt, Minister responsible for the Middle East and North Africa, commended Kuwait’s mediation. Burt, in a brief statement to KUNA and Kuwait TV at his office yesterday, said the British government supported the mediation that aimed at de-escalating the dispute. His Highness the Amir of Kuwait had pledged to continue his mediation efforts to reconcile GCC member states. He said he would not be hampered by fatigue or any difficulties in his quest to re-establish bonds and tackle differences among the six GCC States. “This is a duty that I will not abandon,” he stressed. His Highness the Amir, in the efforts to reconcile the GCC countries, had visited Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar, holding talks with the top leaders that drew much applause from various quarters, including from the US, European Union and Arab League. Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled, in remarks few days ago, stressed the “inevitability” of resolving the rift.

Sanctions harsher
A Qatari official accused Saudi Arabia and its allies Friday of imposing a “siege” on his country with sanctions he said were having a more devastating effect than the Berlin Wall. Ali bin Smaikh al-Marri, chairman of Qatar’s national human rights committee, said the measures amounted to collective punishment and cited one case of a mother being separated from her baby. The recent decision by several countries to cut ties with Qatar was trampling on the rights of citizens from the entire region, he said. “This siege and these measures have led to what is called collective punishment,” Marri told reporters in Geneva in Arabic through a translator, calling on the international community to intervene.

Among other measures, the four states gave all Qatari citizens 14 days to leave their countries and ordered home their own citizens living in Qatar. This had led to “gross violations of human rights”, Marri said, pointing out that every Qatari family had at least one member living in other countries in the region. These measures “are harsher than the Berlin Wall that separated families,” he added. His committee had so far received 1,064 complaints for a vast range of rights violations, from both Qataris and citizens of the other countries involved, he said. He pointed to new laws issued by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE threatening between five and 15 years in prison for any of their citizens “who shows sympathy to the state of Qatar”.

Twitter account ‘suspended’
Qatar-based broadcaster Al-Jazeera said the Twitter account for its main Arabic-language channel was temporarily “suspended” on Saturday, in the latest incident at the station. A spokesman for the channel said the cut may have been due to a technical problem and that all Twitter accounts affected were back online. “Most of our Arabic accounts were blocked, but they are now up-and-running,” the spokesman told AFP, adding that it may take several hours for them to be fully restored. An investigation was taking place to determine the cause, and technical teams from the broadcaster were trying to coordinate with Twitter. Al-Jazeera’s main Arabic language account has almost 12 million followers. The station’s English-language account was unaffected. The announcement that the online accounts were back came around an hour after first reports that some of Al- Jazeera’s Twitter accounts had been blocked. “The main Al-Jazeera Twitter account has been suspended, and work is ongoing to solve the problem,” Yasser Abuhilalah, managing director of Al- Jazeera Arabic, tweeted. “Disruption (by others) will not stop because the truth terrifies them. We’ll be back.” In another tweet, he said no other “channel in the world… faces the same amount of conspiracy”. The incident came at a time of diplomatic crisis between Qatar and neighbouring Gulf countries.

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