Qataris eye air defense system

MOSCOW, Jan 25, (RTRS): Qatar is in talks with Moscow to buy Russian S-400 missile air defense systems, Tass state news agency quoted the Qatari ambassador to Russia on Thursday as saying. Qatar is engaged in a deepening diplomatic row with some of its Gulf Arab neighbours, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), over allegations it supports terrorism, a charge Doha denies.

Since the crisis began last June, Russia has been more active in the region and has sold its missile defence system to other regional powers, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey. “The answer to this question is yes,” Fahad bin Mohammed Al-Attiyah said in an interview with Tass, when asked if Qatar was planning to buy the S-400 systems.

“Talks about the subject are at an advanced stage.” He said an agreement on military and technical cooperation between the two countries, signed in October, had opened the door for further cooperation between Russia and Qatar in the defence field.

This cooperation includes “supplies of military hardware, military training of officers and soldiers, equipment and, indeed, cooperation on the level of special services.” Attiyah added that the two countries would have military attaches posted in embassies. Qatar and Russia signed a military technical cooperation agreement and memorandum of understanding on air defence and military supplies in October, when Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu visited the Gulf state. Last June Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt severed ties with Qatar and imposed travel and economic sanctions on the Gulf Arab state, accusing it of “supporting terrorism” and cosying up to Iran. Doha has said the four countries are trying to force it to alter its policies to be in line with their own. Qatar seeks no military escalation with the United Arab Emirates, its foreign minister told Reuters, following a renewed bout of verbal sparring between the two Gulf states over alleged military overflights.

Earlier this month Qatar accused UAE military planes of repeatedly violating its airspace, while Bahrain and the UAE said Qatari warplanes had harassed two civilian Emirati airliners. The two sides denied each other’s accusations but have signalled they want to de-escalate the row, which comes at a time when relations between Qatar and its Gulf neighbours are very strained. “Qatar will never provoke any country,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said in an interview during the World Economic Forum in Davos, in which he also said the rift between Doha and its Gulf neighbours was hampering regional security cooperation.

He said Qatar welcomed comments by a senior UAE military official this week that the military had received orders not to worsen the seven-month dispute with Doha. “As far as we know, there is no intention about this military conflict. We have seen their announcement yesterday which we have welcomed. For us we don’t see any solution other than resorting to dialogue,” Sheikh Mohammed added. Last June the UAE, along with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt, cut off travel and trade ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism and their arch-rival Iran. Doha denies the charges and says the countries aim to curtail its sovereignty.

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