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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Britain urged to step up pressure on Qatar to end support for extremism

UAE ambassador says London must tell Qatar to 'adhere to our line of concern'

UAE Ambassador to the UK Sulaiman Al Mazroui at his office in London. Stephen Lock for the National
UAE Ambassador to the UK Sulaiman Al Mazroui at his office in London. Stephen Lock for the National

Britain must step up pressure on Qatar to end its support for extremism to avoid giving the impression it is putting its economic interests before security concerns, the UAE's ambassador in London has said.

Sulaiman Al Mazroui indicated his fears that the large scale of Qatari investments in the UK could result in Britain adopting a softer line with Doha. Mr Al Mazroui, a seasoned diplomat who has also served as Head of the UAE Mission to the European Union, warned that regional instability caused by Qatari policies could rebound on the UK.

When asked if Qatar’s British investments, which total tens of billions of dollars’ worth, could be deterring the UK authorities from being tougher with Doha, Mr Al Mazroui said there “could be an element of that”.

“The UK understands where we come from … but we understand that the UK must be a lot more forthcoming with us if they're genuinely trying to pursue a policy of counter-extremism. They must put extra pressure on Qatar,” said Mr Al Mazroui.

“Any country would like to have its interests preserved. They don't want to offend the investors, but let's face it, there's no investment that's safe … You can have investment in real estate and finance and industry, but all this is going to be nothing if the country investing is not safe and not secure and not stable.”

Read more: Our man in London: meet the UAE ambassador working to ease travel for Emiratis

He called on the British leadership to “put more pressure on Qatar to adhere to our line of concern” and highlighted the fact that Britain’s bilateral trade with the UAE is much larger than it is with Qatar.

In other developments yesterday, retired US general Anthony Zinni and deputy assistant secretary of state for Arabian Gulf Affairs Timothy Lenderking arrived in Abu Dhabi as part of a tour of the region to break the stalemate.

Mr Zinni is a widely respected and well-connected figure in the region who cemented US military relations with GCC partners in the 1990s when serving as commander of US Central Command.

He met with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, at Al Shati Palace for talks.

Qatar’s big-ticket investments in London have grabbed headlines in recent years, with the country buying up assets ranging from the US embassy building, which will be turned into a hotel, to the prestigious Harrods department store.

London’s biggest property owner, controlling 21.5 million square feet of real estate, is Canary Wharf Group Investment holdings, which is controlled by the sovereign wealth fund the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) and a US investment group, Brookfield. The QIA owns 95 per cent of the iconic London skyscraper the Shard, and Qatari interests also own many of London’s best-known hotels.

In total, Qatar is thought to own about $50 billion (Dh183.7 billion) worth of UK property, and has stakes in major UK businesses such as the supermarket group Sainsbury’s and the bank Barclays. The country also accounts for about 90 per cent of the UK’s gas imports.

The UAE and a number of other nations in the GCC and wider Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt, launched a boycott of Qatar in June over the the country’s alleged support of terrorism and close ties to Iran. The British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, has called on these four nations to end the boycott and to instead redouble diplomatic initiatives to resolve the stand-off.

Read more: Kuwaiti emir Sheikh Sabah to meet Trump in Washington

Mr Al Mazroui suggested that pressure on Qatar over its alleged support of radical groups - its association with organisations such as the Muslim Brotherhood have been highlighted in the current dispute - had a parallel in British efforts to prevent terrorism.

“The [British] prime minister [Theresa May] has expressed herself many times to other leaders that she's seeking co-operation in combating extremism. Particularly the UK is suffering from the same thing. Preachers come here and preach hate and the result is terrorism,” he said.

“The same thing happens if Qatar pursues the same policy. It's not just harbouring terrorism; it's inciting hatred through media. It's intolerable for us.

“Steps taken by the four countries are the final straw. It's what we had to do. It's not an easy thing for us, a block like the GCC, to excommunicate a member certainly, but we were forced to do it.”

Mr Al Mazroui noted that the UAE had “certainly the largest partnership in trade with the UK”, totalling more than £15 billion (Dh71.6 billion) a year, adding that he hoped this would increase to £20 billion by 2020.

“We're talking about three years' time. We're reaching to go to that target. That will make us the largest Arab country [in terms of trade with the UK]. We're the number four export market for UK products.” he said, adding that the UAE was the gateway to a market of 2 billion people in the wider region.

Read more: US mediators arrive in Abu Dhabi to discuss Qatar crisis

By contrast, he described the UK’s trade with Qatar as “negligible compared to the trade with the UAE”. It is estimated at more than £5 billion a year, significantly less than half the size of UK-UAE trade.

“There's no Jebel Ali – the largest man-made port in the world. No Port Khalifa … You won’t find in Qatar four airlines like you have in the UAE,” he said.

Mr Al Mazroui suggested the current GCC dispute will prevent the forging of a UK-GCC free-trade agreement, something that senior British government officials have said they would like to see.

“With the GCC, we're still finding our way out of this crisis. Unless it's resolved amicably, you're going to see trade with the Gulf as a bloc – it's going to be a bit hampered,” he said.

In response to Mr Al Mazroui's comments, Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office highlighted remarks the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, made last month in which he welcomed the Emir of Qatar's "commitment to combat terrorism in all its manifestations, including terrorist financing". Given that the Emir of Qatar had "pledged to resolve the remaining differences" with the countries leading the boycott, Mr Johnson called for them to lift the embargo and said the UK would continue to assist Kuwaiti mediation efforts.

Dr David Roberts, a member of the Defence Studies Department at King’s College London and author of Qatar: Securing the Global Ambitions of a City-state, said the British authorities had to “tread a very careful line” when it came to balancing the interests of Qatar and those of the UAE.

“Both Qatar and the UAE are important, equally, to the British government and the British economy,” he said.

“Like nearly all other states, they’re not in a position to choose fundamentally and come down on one side.”

He added also that it was “not entirely clear” in any case that Britain had sufficient leverage with either country to play a key role in settling the current dispute.

“Do we have enough trust, size and clout, probably not … The government is preoccupied with Brexit; the bandwidth available is minimal,” he said.