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Qatar wants ‘blockade’ lifted before talks

UAE: Isolation could last ‘years’ –  Turkish troops in Qatar for exercises

DOHA: Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani holds a press conference on Sunday. —AFP

DOHA: Qatar’s foreign minister yesterday called on neighboring states to lift their “blockade” of his country before Doha takes part in any negotiations on ending the Gulf diplomatic crisis. Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani called measures to isolate Qatar imposed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and others “an act of aggression”, adding that lifting them was a “pre-condition” for talks. “We have to make it very clear for everyone, negotiations must be done in a civilized way and should have a solid basis and not under pressure or under blockade,” the foreign minister told reporters in Doha. “Qatar under blockade – there is no negotiation. They have to lift the blockade.”

On June 5, Saudi Arabia and allied states cut all ties with Qatar, pulling their ambassadors from the emirate and ordering its citizens to repatriate by June 19. The measures also included closing Qatar’s only land border, banning its planes from using their airspace and barring Qatari nationals from transiting through their airports. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain and other states accuse Qatar of supporting and funding “terrorism” and of working with regional rival Iran, charges Doha firmly denies.

Sheikh Mohammed’s demand came as a UAE minister warned that Qatar’s diplomatic isolation could “last years”. “We do not want to escalate, we want to isolate,” state minister for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash told journalists during a visit to Paris. “This isolation can take years.” The minister said that while Qatar’s rivals were “betting on time”, a solution could not be brokered until it abandoned its support for “extremist Islamists”.

“They have built a sophisticated podium for jihadism and Islamic extremism,” he said. “They support groups linked to Al-Qaeda in Syria, Libya… and in Yemen. “This state is weaponizing jihadists and Islamists, it is using this as a weapon of influence,” he added. But by applying pressure on gas-rich Qatar through sanctions, “we have a golden opportunity to break this support”, he said.

In the next few days, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt will submit a list of demands to Qatar, which is likely to include the expulsion of radical individuals. “There must be some people who are wise in Qatar and who will prevail, hopefully within the ruling family,” Gargash said. “This is not about regime change, it is about behavior change.”
He called for Western nations including the United States, France, Germany and Britain to help monitor any agreement reached with Qatar to ensure they are not cooperating with jihadists. “They have the diplomatic clout and technical knowhow,” Gargash added. He said that despite the row, the Gulf nations had pledged to allow the massive US base in Qatar, where 10,000 American soldiers are based, to function normally. The Al-Udeid base, the largest US base in the region, is a key launching pad for military strikes on the Islamic State jihadist group.

Sheikh Mohammed said that Qatar had not received any demands from the Gulf states or from countries seeking a diplomatic solution, including Kuwait, the United States, France and Britain. “Why they didn’t submit their demands yet? For us, there is no clear answer for this,” he said. “But what we have seen until now, there is no solid ground for these demands, that’s why they didn’t submit their demands yet.” The foreign minister added that the economic impact on Qatar had so far proved minimal but added: “We are not claiming we are living in a perfect condition.”

The Gulf political crisis has also affected countries outside the region. “France, UK or the United States – they are strong allies of Qatar and we have a great deal of cooperation together in terms of military, defense, security, economically,” said Sheikh Mohammed. “So a blockade on Qatar and measures being taken against Qatar in this way is affecting the interests of those countries as well, directly.”

Families separated
Qatar says the sanctions have also brought personal hardship for its citizens who live in neighboring countries or have relatives there. The countries that imposed the sanctions gave Qataris two weeks to leave, which expired yesterday.

Thousands of Qataris have been unable to board flights to the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, and cut off from relatives in those countries, in a region where cross-border marriages are common and rulers refer to each other as “brothers”.
The Qatari government communications director, Sheikh Saif, said Saudi, Emirati, and Bahraini families had been “forcibly recalled” yesterday by their governments despite being invited to stay by Qatar “The humanitarian impact of the blockade is real,” he said. “The social-fabric of GCC population is being torn apart for political reasons and we will not allow ourselves to be a party to this injustice,” he said, referring to the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Media across much of the Gulf has been critical of Qatar over the past month, carrying articles alleging it has conspired with dissidents to destabilize neighboring governments. The three Gulf states and Egypt blocked access to Qatar’s Al-Jazeera satellite news channel and other Qatari news websites. Yesterday, the state-run Qatar News Agency instructed a law firm to file a formal complaint with Ofcom, Britain’s telecommunications regulator, against the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya news channel and Sky News Arabia for their coverage of Qatar. The British law firm, Carter-Ruck, added that it will be raising concerns regarding Sky’s Abu Dhabi-based subsidiary, Sky News Arabia, as Ofcom considers a proposed multibillion dollar merger between Sky and 21st Century Fox.

Turkish troops hold exercises
Meanwhile, Turkish troops have arrived in Doha to take part in joint training exercises, Qatar’s defense ministry said yesterday. The first joint drills took place on Sunday at the Tariq bin Ziyad military camp in Doha, the ministry said in a statement carried by the official news agency. The exercises aim to raise “Qatari and Turkish fighting efficiency amid plans for joint operations to fight extremism and terrorism, as well as peacekeeping operations before and after military operations,” said the statement in Arabic. The drills had “been planned for some time” added the statement. Qatar’s state-funded pan-Arab news channel Al Jazeera showed footage of a column of armoured personnel carriers moving through the streets.

Turkey is one of Qatar’s strongest allies. Earlier this month, Ankara fast-tracked a separate agreement to allow troops to be deployed at Turkey’s military base in Qatar. It has also increased food supplies to Qatar after the emirate’s land border was closed. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has been one of the figures trying to forge a diplomatic solution to the crisis. And Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has slammed the economic and political isolation of Qatar as “inhumane and un-Islamic”. Last year, Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani was the first foreign leader to phone Erdogan after a failed coup in Turkey. Last week, Qatar’s navy carried out three days of joint training exercises with the US Navy.

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