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Qatar says ultimatum unreasonable

Doha given 10 days to comply – Turkey rejects call to shut base

A Qatari officer checks the vehicle of a Saudi citizen on the Qatari side of the Abu Samrah border crossing with Saudi Arabia on Friday. — AFP

DOHA: Qatar yesterday denounced a sweeping list of demands from Saudi Arabia and its allies in an escalating Gulf diplomatic crisis as unreasonable and an impingement on the emirate’s sovereignty. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt want Qatar to meet the 13-point ultimatum in return for an end to a nearly three-week-old diplomatic and trade “blockade” of the emirate. Qatar has been given 10 days to meet the demands, which apparently include a call to close down broadcaster Al-Jazeera, but Doha said the requests were unrealistic.

“This list of demands confirms what Qatar has said from the beginning – the illegal blockade has nothing to do with combating terrorism, it is about limiting Qatar’s sovereignty, and outsourcing our foreign policy,” said Sheikh Saif bin Ahmed Al-Thani, head of Qatar’s government communications office, in a statement. “The US secretary of state recently called upon the blockading nations to produce a list of grievances that was ‘reasonable and actionable’. The British foreign secretary asked that the demands be ‘measured and realistic’. This list does not satisfy that criteria.”

The four Arab governments delivered the demands to Qatar through mediator Kuwait on

Thursday, more than two weeks after severing all ties with the emirate and imposing an embargo. The document has not been published but has been widely leaked and the demands are sweeping in their scope. They include the closure of Al-Jazeera television, a long-standing source of conflict between Doha and neighboring countries which accuse it of fomenting regional strife.

“The measures that have been taken are there to stay until there is a long-term solution to the issue,” Emirati Ambassador to the US Yousef Al-Otaiba said in an interview. Suggesting the penalties would only be economic and diplomatic, he said “there is no military element to this whatsoever”. Having urged Qatar’s neighbors to come up with “reasonable and actionable” demands, the US sought to distance itself from the crisis the day after the Arab countries issued a list that included several provisions Qatar had already declared it could not or would not accept.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has tried to mediate and earlier this week called on the Arab nations to limit themselves to “reasonable and actionable” demands. That call appeared to have been roundly ignored, and it was the Kuwaitis – who also offered to mediate – who delivered the list Thursday to Qatar. “This is an Arab issue that requires an Arab solution,” Otaiba said. “That’s why the Kuwaitis will take the lead in the negotiation.” That’s just fine, the US said. At the White House, spokesman Sean Spicer called it a “family issue” among Arab states and declined to say whether the newly articulated demands were legitimate. “This is something that they want to and should work out for themselves,” Spicer said.

Qatar faces Gulf ‘divorce’
The ultimatum also include calls for Doha to cut ties to groups including the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic State organization, Al-Qaeda and Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah movement. Qatar has also been asked to hand over opposition figures wanted by its three neighbors and Egypt and to downgrade diplomatic ties with Iran. Notably, it has also been told to shut a Turkish military base in the emirate. Qatar’s foreign affair ministry said it was “studying” the list, “in order to prepare an appropriate response”. The sanctioning countries demanded Qatar pay them reparations for any damage or costs incurred due to Qatari policies. Compliance with the demands would be monitored, with monthly reports in the first year, then every three months the next year, then annually for 10 years.

The most powerful country in the region to back the Qatari side in the dispute has been Turkey, whose President Tayyip Erdogan has his roots in an Islamist political party similar to movements that Qatar has backed in the region. Days after the sanctions were imposed, Turkey rushed through legislation to send more troops to its base in Qatar as a sign of support. Defense Minister Fikri Isik rejected the demand to close the base, saying it would represent interference in Ankara’s relations with Doha. Instead, Turkey might bolster its presence. “Strengthening the Turkish base would be a positive step in terms of the Gulf’s security,” he said. “Re-evaluating the base agreement with Qatar is not on our agenda.”

Meshal Hamad Al-Thani, Qatar’s ambassador to the United States, tweeted that the list was meant to “punish Qatar for its independence”. “I can assure you that our situation today is very comfortable,” he told AP. “Qatar could continue forever like that with no problems.” Asked whether Qatar felt pressure to resolve the crisis quickly, he said: “Not at all.” “This reflects basically an attempt from these countries to suppress free media and also undermine our sovereignty,” said the Qatari envoy. “They are trying to impose their views on how the issues need to be dealt with in the Middle East. They are bullies,” he added.
Qatar was warned by one of its most hawkish critics in the region that unless it meets the list of demands, Doha faces “divorce” from its Gulf neighbors. Anwar Gargash, the UAE’s state minister for foreign affairs, said Qatar should yield to the demands. “It would be wiser that (Qatar) deal seriously with the demands and concerns of the neighbors or a divorce will take place,” he wrote on Twitter. The demands confirm that “the crisis is profound”, Gargash added. He also said Qatar leaked the document containing the demands by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt, which cut diplomatic ties earlier this month, accusing Qatar of sponsoring terrorism. Qatar strongly denies such charges.

‘Attempt to silence’
Al-Jazeera, one of the largest news organizations in the world, responded to the demands by saying it “deplores” calls for it to be taken off air. “We in the network believe that any call for closing down Al-Jazeera is nothing but an attempt to silence the freedom of expression in the region and to suppress people’s right to information,” the broadcaster said in a statement. In the other official response out of Qatar, its Human Rights Committee said the demands represented “gross violations” of basic rights.

Qatar is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council with Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. As well as cutting diplomatic ties, Qatar’s neighbors closed their air space to Qatari carriers and blocked the emirate’s only land border, vital for its food imports. Qatar is home to the largest US base in the region, Al-Udeid, and Bahrain is home to the Fifth Fleet of the United States Navy.

Tillerson’s spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Tuesday the United States was “mystified” that Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies had failed to present details justifying their embargo on Qatar. US President Donald Trump, however, has made statements siding with Saudi Arabia in the crisis. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Friday that any conditions placed on Qatar should be “measured and realistic”.

The uncompromising demands leave little prospect for a quick end to the biggest diplomatic crisis for years between Sunni Arab Gulf states, regional analysts said. “The demands are so aggressive that it makes it close to impossible to currently see a resolution of that conflict,” said Olivier Jakob, a strategist at Switzerland-based oil consultancy Petromatrix. Ibrahim Fraihat, Conflict Resolution Professor at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, forecast a prolonged stand-off. Qatar will reject the demands as a “non-starter”, he said, and its neighbors had already escalated as far as they were likely to go. “Military action remains unlikely at the moment so the outcome after the deadline would be a political stalemate…”

Qataris who spoke to Reuters described the demands as unreasonable, particularly the closure of Jazeera, which millions of Arabs see as an important outlet for voices willing to challenge the region’s authoritarian rulers, but which neighboring governments call a conduit for Islamist propaganda. “Imagine another country demanding that CNN be closed,” 40-year-old Haseeb Mansour, who works for telecom operator Ooredoo, said.

Abdullah Al-Muhanadi, a retired public sector worker shopping for groceries in Doha on Friday morning, said the boycott must be lifted before negotiations to resolve the dispute could start. “There’s a lot on the list that is simply not true or unreasonable, so how can we comply?” he said. “There are no IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) elements in Qatar and the agreement with Turkey is a long-standing diplomatic agreement so we cannot ask them to leave.” – Agencies

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