UAE and Saudi seek Qatari ‘change in policy, not leadership’
ABU DHABI and AMMAN // The severing of diplomatic ties and partial blockade against Qatar by the UAE and Saudi Arabia are not aimed at forcing a change in leadership, the UAE said on Wednesday.
“This is not about regime change — this is about change of policy, change of approach,” said Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. “The government of Qatar is in denial,” he added, calling Qatar “the main champion of extremism and terrorism in the region”.
Dr Gargash spoke ahead of the arrival in the UAE of the emir of Kuwait for talks on the crisis.
Sheikh Sabah, has embarked on a round of shuttle diplomacy, beginning with a meeting with King Salman in Jeddah on Tuesday.
On Wednesday evening he met in Dubai with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces and with Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed, the foreign minister.
The leaders reaffirmed the importance of regional and international coordination to “combat extremism and terrorism and to block their financing sources,” state news agency WAM reported.
Later Sheikh Sabah flew to Doha for talks with the Qatari leadership.
As the sanctions against Qatar took hold, the agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded Qatar’s credit rating by one notch and the riyal fell to an 11-year low amid signs that investment funds were flowing out of the country.
The tensions that erupted two weeks ago and then dramatically escalated on Monday, are rooted in Doha’s long-standing support for the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist groups. The UAE and Saudi Arabia also accuse Doha of supporting figures who propagate extremist ideology that fuels backing for groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIL.
The same issues flared up in 2014, but Sheikh Tamim — at the time newly-installed as emir of Qatar — pledged to take steps to curtail Doha’s support to Islamist groups and their use of Qatari media as a platform and fall in line with the Saudi-led policy on confronting Iran.
Emirati and Saudi officials say those promises were not kept, and with Donald Trump’s public support, they are using their leverage to try to bring Qatar to heel once and for all.
“We have reached a cul-de-sac in terms of trying to convince Qatar to change course,” Dr Gargash told AFP.
Mr Trump spoke by phone with King Salman on Tuesday. The White House said they “discussed the critical goals of preventing the financing of terrorist organisations and eliminating the promotion of extremism by any nation in the region”.
The US president then spoke with the emir of Qatar on Wednesday and offered to host a meeting at the White House to help resolve the crisis.
Mr Trump told Sheikh Tamim that all countries in the region should work together “to prevent the financing of terrorist organisations and stop the promotion of extremist ideology”.
Kuwait and Oman have been leading intensive mediation efforts. Kuwait was instrumental in brokering the agreement that defused the previous crisis in 2014.
However, Dr Gargash cautioned against a breakthrough even before the Kuwaiti emir’s visit to the UAE. He said the conditions were not right for mediation at the moment. “The conditions have to start with that statement [by Qatar], that will [to change their policies] by Qatar,” he said.
Meanwhile, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Qatar’s closest ally, said he “did not think the sanctions against Qatar are good. Turkey will continue and will develop our ties with Qatar, as with all our friends who have supported us in the most difficult moments.”
On Wednesday Turkish officials said Ankara may accelerate plans to deploy more troops to the permanent base it established in Qatar, as well as increase vital food and water exports to the emirate. Qatar’s only land border is with Saudi Arabia, over which it imports around 40 per cent of its food and much of its building materials and other commodities. Another significant proportion of food is re-exported via the UAE, which has cut off trade.
Qatar hosts the forward headquarters of the US Central Command at Al Udeid airbase, which is crucial to US operations in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Qatar’s decision to pay for and house the base in 2002 was in part a strategic move to protect it from larger rivals. The US military has said it has no plans to move the base.
Turkey’s deployment, while small, is a significant signal. There are currently 94 Turkish troops at the base in Qatar, according to a Turkish general reported in IHS Jane’s last month. The general said around 600 troops will be stationed there but in 2015 another official said the goal was to have 3,000 troops in Qatar.
GCC ally Jordan was the latest to join Riyadh and Abu Dhabi in taking measures against Doha.
Jordan has asked Qatar’s ambassador in Amman to leave the country within days and, after “examining the reasons behind the crisis”, decided to downgrade — though not sever — its own diplomatic ties with Qatar. Al Jazeera’s broadcast licence is also revoked.
“The decision to scale down the diplomatic representation means the [Qatari] ambassador leaves the country in days,” a Jordanian official said.
However, the Qatari embassy’s chargé d’affaires will still represent Doha’s foreign ministry, he added.
The two countries have tensions in their relationship that precede the GCC crisis. “Ties between Jordan and Qatar are cold,” said Fares Braizat, chairman of NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions in Amman. “Qatar has been trying to compete with Jordan over a regional role carved out for small states, particularly when it comes to files that Jordan has been handling for a long time, such as the peace process and certain regional security matters, especially fighting terrorism.”
Doha, as a result, also never contributed to a $5 billion (Dh18.36bn) GCC fund established in 2011 during the Arab Spring to support development projects in Jordan.
Comoros also announced a downgrade in diplomatic ties with Qatar on Wednesday and Morocco’s national airline, Royal Air Maroc, cancelled flights to the UAE, Saudi, Yemen and Egypt that fly via Doha, adding to travel chaos caused by the crisis.
*Suha Maayeh reported from Amman
Updated: June 7, 2017 04:00 AM