Tuesday , October 16 2018

Embrace Qatar or no Camp David summit, says Trump

It appears that US President Donald Trump’s invitation to Gulf heads of state to his Camp David retreat to resolve differences between Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain with neighbouring Qatar is now offered with preconditions. “No breakthrough in the Qatar crisis, no Camp David” writes Associated Press’ Josh Lederman.

The message from the White House is both sides need to be on speaking terms before being permitted to enjoy US hospitality at Camp David amid the Maryland Mountains. This has echoes of my schooldays when my squabbling classmates could expect a smack from their teacher. How dare you treat us like third graders, Mr Trump!

On Saturday, reports suggested he is sending two envoys to the Arabian Gulf region presumably to exert some arm-twisting.

The Kingdom and its Gulf allies are keen to maintain good relations with their staunchest Western ally the United States but our leaders should not allow themselves to be held over a barrel or sacrifice their principles to satisfy US regional interests.

Qatar knows full well what it needs to do to be welcomed back into the fold but thus far has made no moves to disassociate itself from known radical individuals, groups and terrorist-supporting charities, despite the White House’s assertions to the contrary absent of any evidence.

Furthermore, not only has Qatar dismissed the quartet’s request to close the Muslim Brotherhood’s mouthpiece Al Jazeera, the network’s vitriolic coverage of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt has been ramped-up.

Adding salt to the wound, Doha now colludes with our number one enemy, the Islamic Republic of Iran as well as an ever more belligerent Turkey which is pushing to gain a military foothold in the Middle East — and already has its foot in the door of Qatar, Sudan and Syria.

Just days ago, the UAE’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva stated on behalf of the Saudi-led quartet that Qatar was marketing the dispute as “a major international crisis” and asked Qatar to build positive relations with its neighbours or “continue to be in breach of international law” and “conventions to counter terrorism” with its support of extremist ideologies and its spread of hatred via its media outlets.

Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir is in no mood to roll-over on Trump’s command judging by comments he made during a visit to Vienna late last month. He accused Qatar of spreading hatred in various countries. Once it “stops funding terrorism, the Arab quartet will definitely be ready to restore normal ties,” he said.

I have always said that I consider this rift a family affair which can only be resolved by the concerned parties. I am strongly opposed to interference from the US or any other nation bent on serving its own interests.

Ultimately, the ball is in Doha’s court. It is out of step with its neighbours on many fronts and if it wants to be treated as a brotherly nation, which it once was, the solution rests in the hands of the Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

In the meantime, Saudi and allies should decline to dance to the Trump administration’s tune especially when it shows signs of being hand-in-glove with Qatar. If we allow ourselves to be pushed around, Qatar, that craves reconciliation without giving anything in return, will be gloating while we will look weak. Caving-in to Mr. Trump’s ‘orders’ would also set a precedent for any future demands of us he cares to make.

Last year, Trump criticized Qatar for funding terror “at a very high level” and reportedly encouraged the Saudi-led quartet’s efforts to persuade Doha to change course in line with all other GCC member countries. Fast forward and he is the one who has changed course.

He now prods Saudi, the UAE and Bahrain — which make every effort to combat terrorism and extremism and share his positions on the Iran threat — to be the capitulating side. You cannot make this up.

Right or wrong, morality or immorality do not figure in US geopolitical stances. Trump’s flip-flop is solely premised on Qatar’s usefulness to the United States in terms of investments, weapons purchases and most crucially Doha’s hosting of US Central Command’s forward headquarters that overseas America’s missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.

Unfortunately, I cannot help noticing that America’s mainstream media is tilting towards Qatar in its reports. Newspaper articles tend to portray Doha as an innocent victim which has been unfairly painted as a terrorist funder.

Al Jazeera is likewise held high as a professional ethical network by writers with no knowledge of the Arabic language, who often display outrage at what they describe as an attack on free speech. In reality it is a broadcaster that would make arch propagandists Lord Haw or Tokyo Rose proud.

Qatar is astute at manipulating the US media. Huge sums are allocated for whitewashing via advertising, advertorials, social media campaigns and PR agencies. Qatar’s Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman deserves an Oscar for his adoption of a ‘butter wouldn’t melt’ mild-mannered, persona when interviewed.

He comes across as the voice of reason defending his hard done-by country from its big bad former friends while all the while Qatar’s media churns out slanders, lies and insults against Saudi and the UAE on his government’s behalf.

I would urge the Kingdom to consult with the Emirates, Bahrain and friendly Gulf countries on a unified response to Trump’s ‘mediation’ that is as one-sided as his ‘mediation of the Israel-Palestine conflict. We must be strong. We must trust one another.

My preference would be ‘thanks, but no thanks’. Right now, going to Camp David would be akin to walking into a lion’s den. Remember when Obama invited all GCC heads of state to Camp David following his deal with the Iranian devil, only the emirs of Qatar and Kuwait accepted. Trump should be treated similarly.

Personally, I look forward to the day when bridges are mended. Our peoples have always been close. We share cultural and tribal roots. Many of my friends are Qataris and I take this opportunity of assuring our brothers and sisters in Qatar that we have no dispute with you. The sooner normality reigns, the better for all but this must be done in our own time and on our own terms.

By Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor – UAE Businessman

 

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