DUBAI, June 8, (Agencies): Efforts to resolve a diplomatic dispute pitting Saudi Arabia and its allies against Qatar intensified Thursday, after Washington offered to mediate the biggest crisis to grip the Gulf in years.
As His Highness Kuwait’s Amir shuttled between Gulf capitals for talks, US President Donald Trump offered to host a White House meeting if necessary, in a change of heart from his initial support for the Saudiled boycott.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain lead a string of countries that this week cut ties with Qatar over what they say is the emirate’s financing of extremist groups and its ties to Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional archrival.
Qatar strongly denies the allegations and has expressed a willingness to engage in talks to resolve the crisis. Kuwait — which unlike most of its fellow Gulf Cooperation Council members has not cut off ties with Qatar — has been leading efforts to mediate. Its Amir Sheikh Sabah al- Ahmad Al-Sabah held talks on Wednesday with Qatari counterpart Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, following talks with senior UAE officials and Saudi King Salman.
Qatar, meanwhile, said on Thursday fellow Arab states’ move to isolate it in a row over alleged ties to terrorism is endangering stability in the oil-rich Gulf region but it was not ready to change its foreign policy to settle the dispute and would never compromise. Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani spoke as would-be mediators ranging from US President Donald Trump to Kuwait’s ruling Amir struggled to ease a crisis that Qataris say has led to a blockade of their nation. “We have been isolated because we are successful and progressive. We are a platform for peace not terrorism … This dispute is threatening the stability of the entire region,” Sheikh Mohammed told reporters in Doha. “We are not ready to surrender, and will never be ready to surrender, the independence of our foreign policy.” Sheikh Mohammed said Qatar had not yet been presented with a list of demands by countries that cut off diplomatic and transport links with it, but insisted the matter be solved peacefully.
“There cannot ever be a military solution to this problem.” Sheikh Mohammed said Iran had told Doha it was ready to help with securing food supplies in the emirate, an investment powerhouse and supplier of natural gas to world markets but tiny and reliant on imports. Normally guarded about politics, Qataris expressed outrage. “It is a blockade! Like that of Berlin. A declaration of war. A political, economic and social aggression,” a Qatari diplomat said. “We need the world to condemn the aggressors.” Saudi Arabia’s closure of Qatar’s only land border sparked fears of major price hikes and food shortages for its population of 2.7 million people, with long queues forming as some supermarkets began running out of stock.
With supply chains disrupted and anxiety mounting about deepening economic turbulence, banks and firms in Gulf Arab states were seeking to keep business links to Qatar open and avoid a costly firesale of assets. Turkey has brought forward a planned troop deployment to Qatar and pledged to provide food and water supplies to its Arab ally, which hosts a Turkish military base. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has said isolating Qatar would not resolve any problems.
The UAE’s national postal service, Emirates Post Group, suspended all postal services to Qatar, state news agency WAM said, the latest in a series of measures degrading commercial and communications links with Doha. The Abu Dhabi Petroleum Ports Authority also reimposed a ban on oil tankers linked to Qatar calling at ports in the UAE, reversing an earlier decision to ease restrictions and potentially creating a logjam of crude cargoes.
Trump initially took sides with the Saudi-led group before apparently being nudged into a more even-handed approach when US defence officials renewed praise of Doha, mindful of the major US military base hosted by Qatar that serves, in part, as a launchpad for strikes on Islamic State jihadists.
In his second intervention in the dispute in as many days, Trump urged action against terrorism in a call with Qatari Amir Sheikh Tamim, a White House statement said, suggesting a meeting at the White House “if necessary”. It said that Trump, in a later call with Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan, called for unity among Gulf Arabs “but never at the expense of eliminating funding for radical extremism or defeating terrorism”. Officials from Qatar and its Arab neighbours in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) were pursuing shuttle diplomacy, with the Qatari foreign minister due in Moscow and Brussels and Bahrain’s king visiting his ally Egypt for talks on the crisis.
The Qatari ambassador to Washington, Meshal Hamad al-Thani, wrote on Twitter that a key pillar of Doha’s foreign policy was mediation. “Open channels of communication means venues for conflict resolution,” he said. The foreign minister of Oman met HH the Amir Sheikh Sabah for talks. But a diplomat in Kuwait briefed by foreign ministry officials said the Amir’s diplomacy had been about damage control and had yet to produce tangible results, with personality clashes playing a big role in the impasse. “The feeling here is that it is going to take a while to fix. It is more about preventing things from getting worse … Kuwait is trying to get everyone around the table and stop things from escalating further,” the diplomat told Reuters. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al- Jubeir said Gulf states could resolve the dispute among themselves without outside help. “We have not asked for mediation, we believe this issue can be dealt with among the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC),” he told a news conference on Wednesday during a visit to Berlin, broadcast on Saudi state television.
In an interview with BBC radio, UAE Ambassador to Russia Omar Saif Ghobash said Qatar had to choose between supporting extremism or supporting its neighbours. “We have all kinds of recordings taking place where they (Qatar) are coordinating with al-Qaeda in Syria,” he said. “Qatar needs to decide: Do you want to be in the pocket of Turkey, Iran and Islamic extremists? They need to make a decision; they can’t have it both ways. The Saudi newspaper al Watan published what it called a list of eight “extremist organisations” seen as working to destabilise the region from Qatar, including Qatar’s al Jazeera news channel, that were targeted by Gulf Arab states. State-funded al Jazeera’s acting director general, Mostefa Souag, dismissed accusations that its reportage is pro-Islamist and amounts to meddling in the affairs of other Arab states. “We don’t interfere in anybody’s business, we just report,” he told Reuters in an interview at Al Jazeera’s Doha headquarters. “If we bring in guests who are opposing certain governments, does that mean we are interfering in the countries’ business? No. Al Jazeera’s editorial policy is going to continue the same regardless of what happens with this event.” Jubeir declined to confirm a list of 10 demands published by Al Jazeera, which included shutting down the widely watched, Doha-based satellite network. But he added that Qatar knew what it needed to do to restore normal relations.