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Erdogan slams ‘inhumane’ isolation of Qatar

US envoy to Qatar to step down – Saudis offers ‘aid’ to Qatar

ANKARA: Turkish President and Chairman of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech during AK Party’s group meeting at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey yesterday. —AFP Photos

ISTANBUL: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday slammed the economic and political isolation of Qatar as inhumane and contrary to Islamic values after key Gulf states broke off ties with Ankara’s ally. “Taking action to isolate a country in all areas is inhumane and un-Islamic,” Erdogan said in televised comments to his party in Ankara, after Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain broke off relations with Qatar on June 5, accusing it of supporting “terrorism”.

In his strongest comments yet on the crisis, Erdogan added that Qatar was a country “on which a death sentenced had in some way been pronounced”. The crisis has put Turkey in a delicate position as Ankara regards Qatar as its chief ally in the Gulf but is also keen to maintain its improving relations with the key regional power Saudi Arabia. Turkey also is eager to maintain workable relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s foe with whom Doha’s critics say Qatar maintained excessively close ties.

Erdogan added he would hold three-way phone talks on the crisis later with French President Emmanuel Macron and Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani. The move by Saudi and its allies came shortly after US President Donald Trump visited Riyadh, with some analysts saying the US leader had emboldened the Saudi leadership. Earlier, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Erdogan would hold talks on the crisis with Trump in the coming days.

Erdogan vehemently rejected the accusations – already strongly denied by Doha – that Qatar supports terrorism, arguing the country had been a staunch opponent of Islamic State (IS) jihadists. “Qatar is a country which, like Turkey, has adopted the most resolute stance against Daesh (IS),” said Erdogan. “Let’s stop fooling ourselves.” Striking a careful balance, Erdogan stopped short of directly criticizing Saudi Arabia’s actions but called on Saudi King Salman to show leadership by solving the crisis. “I think that as the elder statesman of the Gulf, the king of Saudi Arabia should solve this affair and show leadership,” said Erdogan.

Turkey’s parliament last week approved deploying troops to a Turkish base in Qatar in what was seen as a show of support for its embattled ally. The agreement does not contain any specific number of troops to be stationed in the base, or when. The curbs placed on gas-rich Qatar have ranged from bans on flag-carrier Qatar Airways using airspace of the countries involved to Saudi Arabia suspending subscription sales and renewals to a Qatar-linked sports broadcaster.

US ambassador quits
Meanwhile, the US ambassador to Qatar said yesterday she is leaving her post in Doha, in the midst of the worst diplomatic crisis involving America’s Gulf allies in years. “This month, I end my 3 years as US Ambassador to #Qatar. It has been the greatest honor of my life and I’ll miss this great country,” Dana Shell Smith said on Twitter yesterday. Shell Smith did not say why she was stepping down, if she was staying within the diplomatic service or who would replace her. Many US ambassadors leave their posts after serving around three years.

Shell Smith was appointed ambassador to the Gulf emirate by Barack Obama in 2014. Last month she appeared to express dissatisfaction with political events back home in another message posted on social media. She took to Twitter in the hours after Trump’s dramatic sacking of FBI director James Comey, tweeting: “Increasingly difficult to wake up overseas to news from home, knowing I will spend today explaining our democracy and institutions.” Qatar is home to Al-Udeid, the largest US airbase in the region, which houses around 10,000 troops.

In Washington, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister insisted there’s no blockade on Qatar and said his country will provide food and medical aid if needed. Adel Al-Jubeir said yesterday before a meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that Qatar’s ports and airports are open. He said Saudi Arabia has merely denied Qatar use of its airspace, which he said is his country’s sovereign right.

Jubeir said Qatar can move goods in and out “whenever they want”. He says Saudi Arabia has allowed families to move between countries. Still, Jubeir says Saudi Arabia is willing to provide food and medical supplies through the King Salman Center, a Saudi humanitarian agency. Saudi Arabia has closed Qatar’s sole land border and joined other countries in cutting off sea traffic, leading panicked residents to stockpile food.

On Monday, Qatar denounced the sanctions imposed against Doha by Saudi Arabia and its allies as “unfair” and “illegal”, as Britain announced talks to try to resolve the crisis. “Whatever relates to our foreign affairs… no one has the right to discuss,” Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani told reporters during a visit to Paris. He called for “dialogue based on clear foundations” over accusations that Qatar supports extremist groups. “Qatar is willing to sit and negotiate about whatever is related to Gulf security,” he added.

In London, British foreign minister Boris Johnson called for calm and said he would meet this week with his counterparts from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE. “I have urged all sides to refrain from any further escalation and to engage in mediation efforts,” he said. While praising Qatar’s restraint during the crisis, he added: “In finding a resolution, I call on Qatar to take seriously their neighbors’ concerns. Qatar is a partner of the UK in the fight against terrorism but they urgently need to do more to address support for extremist groups, building on the steps they have already taken to tackle funding to those groups.”

In Paris, Sheikh Mohammed, who is on a European tour to drum up support for Qatar, said his country had no idea what had provoked the move against it. “It’s not about Iran or Al-Jazeera,” he said, referring to the Qatar-based broadcaster. “We have no clue about the real reasons.” But he supported moves by Kuwait to act as a mediator in the dispute “with the help of friendly countries such as the United States,” he added. Sheikh Mohammed’s courting of Europe – he has also visited Germany and Russia in recent days – though did not go down well in parts of the Gulf.

UAE’s foreign minister Anwar Gargash took to Twitter on Monday to claim Qatar had sought to “internationalize the crisis with its brothers”. And in Kuwait, which has not joined its neighbors in acting against Qatar, foreign minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Sabah warned that the crisis “may lead to undesirable consequences,” according to a quote on state news agency Kuna.

‘Illegal blockade’
In Doha, Qatar Airways called on the UN’s aviation body to declare the Gulf boycott against the carrier “illegal” and a violation of a 1944 convention on international air transport. In televised interviews on Monday, Qatar Airways outspoken CEO Akbar Al Baker called the move an “illegal blockade” and urged the United Nations’ civil aviation branch to intervene. Qatar Airways has made Doha a global hub in just a few years, but industry analysts say banning it from Gulf states’ airspace could threaten its position as a major transcontinental carrier.

Al-Baker also criticized US President Donald Trump for comments he has made linking Qatar to supporting terror. “I think that President Trump’s comment about my country is ill-placed, ill-informed, and I can again repeat that I’m very disappointed in him.” Qatar announced Monday that it had launched direct shipping services to ports in Oman in a bid to bypass the Gulf “blockade”. Saudi Arabia has closed the Qatari peninsula’s only land border, threatening imports of both fresh food and raw materials needed to complete a $200 billion infrastructure project for the 2022 football World Cup. However, one source told AFP on Monday that Qatar’s World Cup preparations continue “as normal”. Yesterday, Morocco announced it would send food by plane to Qatar. – Agencies

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