German FM, UN envoy in Kuwait - Turkey adamant on base

Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa (left), Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir (second left), UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan (second right) and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri (right) meet in the Egyptian capital Cairo yesterday. (Inset) Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Al-Thani speaks at the Chatham House think tank in London yesterday. - AFP

CAIRO: Four Arab nations seeking to isolate Qatar over its alleged support for extremist groups were irked yesterday by what they said was a "negative" response by the tiny Gulf nation to their demands for ending the crisis roiling the region. Doha's response, they said, was "not serious" and betrayed Qatar's "failure" to realize the gravity of the situation. They refrained from slapping further sanctions on Qatar, but said their boycott of the emirate would continue.

The announcement followed a meeting by foreign ministers from the four nations - Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain - in Cairo, shortly after they said they had received Doha's reply. The four accuse Qatar of supporting terror groups and also of maintaining close relations with Shiite power Iran - Saudi Arabia's nemesis. They also say Qatar must stop meddling in their affairs.

Egypt's foreign minister, Sameh Shukri, told reporters Qatar's response to the Arab states' 13-point list of demands was "negative on the whole." It did not "lay the foundations for Qatar's abandonment of the policies it pursues. It's a position that does not realize the gravity of the situation," he added. The ministers did not say what their next steps would be - that, they explained, would be announced after further consultations. They will meet next in Bahrain, but a date has yet to be set. "We hope wisdom will prevail and Qatar will eventually make the right decisions," Shukri added.

The Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan said Qatar was only interested in "destruction, incitement, extremism and terrorism", rather than in good neighborly relations. Shukri said Qatar's policies could not be allowed to continue and vowed that Egyptian blood would not be shed in vain, a reference to deadly attacks by militants on Egyptian army and security forces. Cairo has long accused Qatar of supporting extremists in Egypt.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, on a tour of Gulf countries, said he was cautiously optimistic the feuding states would reach a solution once they met for talks. "But it is also possible that it will continue to be difficult for some days," he told reporters in Kuwait where he met HH the Amir, who is mediating in the crisis.

The UN's political chief, Jeffrey Feltman, is also in Kuwait for talks on ending the diplomatic crisis. Feltman, who is UN under-secretary-general for political affairs, "is there currently to discuss with a broad range of interlocutors the ongoing crisis in the region and other conflicts," said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres dispatched Feltman to the Gulf after meeting with Qatar's foreign minister last week. Feltman arrived in Kuwait from the United Arab Emirates and will travel to Doha later this week. The United Nations has backed efforts by Kuwait to mediate an end to the crisis and has also offered to help broker a solution.

Earlier yesterday, US President Donald Trump called on all parties in the dispute to "negotiate constructively" and to "stop terrorist financing and discredit extremist ideology". A White House statement said Trump's call for a negotiated settlement came in a telephone conversation with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi. The dispute erupted early last month when the four Arab countries cut ties to the FIFA 2022 World Cup host. Qatar denies supporting extremists and has defended its warm relations with Iran; the two countries share a massive undersea natural gas field.

The four nations issued a 13-point list of demands on June 22, giving Qatar 10 days to comply. They later extended the deadline by another 48 hours at the request of Kuwait, which is trying to mediate the crisis. That second deadline expired early yesterday morning. On Tuesday, intelligence chiefs from the four Arab countries met in Cairo, likely to discuss the crisis, according to Egypt's state MENA news agency.

Qatar's response was not made public but it had previously called the demands - which include shutting down its Al-Jazeera satellite news network, closing a Turkish military base in the country and paying restitution - an affront to its sovereignty. The crisis has become a global concern as neither side appears to be backing down.

Meanwhile, Sheikh Abdullah, the UAE's foreign minister, has kept up the pressure on Qatar. "To defeat terrorism, we must confront extremism, we must confront hate speech, we must confront the harboring and sheltering of extremists and terrorists, and funding them," he said. "Unfortunately, we in this region see that our sister nation of Qatar has allowed and harbored and encouraged all of this."

Qatar's Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, criticized the four Arab nations for trying to isolate Qatar "under the banner of fighting terrorism", adding the accusations cited when they severed ties a month ago "were clearly designed to create anti-Qatar sentiment in the West". He told a session of London's Chatham House think-tank that Doha was continuing to call for dialogue to settle the row. "(This is) despite the separation of 12,000 families, despite the siege that is a clear aggression and an insult to all international treaties, bodies and jurisdictions," he said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying in an interview with German weekly Die Zeit published yesterday that "what is being done with Qatar runs counter to international law." He said the Arab states' demand for the Turkish base to be closed shows "a lack of respect toward us and Qatar" and added that "the Americans are also there, with 9,000 soldiers, and so are the French". "Why are the Saudis disturbed by us and not by that? This is unacceptable," Erdogan said. He also criticized a demand for the closure of broadcaster Al-Jazeera, saying Ankara "will support Qatar in every way, because we share the same values, have good relations and we cannot be silent about the injustice."

A senior Turkish official later said only Ankara and Doha will decide on the fate of the Turkish military base. Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak told AP that the Arab states' pressure for Qatar to shutter the Turkish base amounts to a violation of Qatar's sovereign rights and urged the Arab countries to overcome their differences "in a brotherly" manner. Kaynak said "those who will make the decision (about the base) are the two countries that made the agreement, the pact: Qatar and the Republic of Turkey". He reiterated Ankara's position that the Turkish base is for the benefit of the region's security and that it "is not an occupation, an annexation force".

The credit ratings agency Moody's warned early yesterday that it had set Qatar's economic outlook to negative over the crisis. "Public exchanges between the various parties in recent weeks and previous periods of heightened tensions between Qatar and other GCC countries suggest that a quick resolution is unlikely and that the stalemate may continue for some time," Moody's said. "Depending on the duration and potential further escalation of tensions, the dispute could negatively affect Qatar's economic and fiscal strength. Absent a swift resolution, economic activity will likely be hampered by the measures imposed so far." - Agencies