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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

UAE says Qatari emir's speech falls short

Dialogue is welcome, but must be based on a re-evaluation of Qatar's positions, Gargash says

Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Gargash says military intervention in Qatar was never considered. Giuseppe Cacace / AFP
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Gargash says military intervention in Qatar was never considered. Giuseppe Cacace / AFP

The UAE reacted with scepticism to Qatar's declaration that it was ready to engage in dialogue to end the GCC crisis.

After weeks of silence, the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Thani finally spoke out in a televised address on Friday and admitted it was time for dialogue.

He said Qatar was not afraid of identifying and correcting errors and that the crisis had provided a period of reflection and helped the country to identify its shortcomings.

However, his words failed to convince. The UAE's minister of state for foreign affairs, Dr Anwar Gargash took to Twitter to express his disappointment at the emir's first utterances throughout the crisis.

"I had hoped that Sheikh Tamim's speech would be an invitation for revision [of positions] and an invitation for engagement. Positions are now well-known and repeating them deepens the crisis," he tweeted.

Dr Gargash said the emir's call for dialogue was welcome, as "dialogue is necessary and required". However, dialogue could only happen if Doha made changes.

"Its foundation (needs to be) based on a re-evaluation of Qatar's positions," Dr Gargash wrote.

In the past 48 hours there had seemed to a softening of tone between the two sides with diplomats on the boycotters' side hinting that there was room for compromise on how Qatar could implement their demands, if not on the demands themselves.

Al jazeera TV, which is headquartered in Doha was blocked, as were all its affiliates, including the BeIN spots channels. But on Saturday, BeIN was back on TV sceens in the UAE.

It is now seven weeks since Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt broke off economic, diplomatic and transport links with Qatar on June 5, accusing it of financing and giving safe haven to terrorists. Since then, a steady parade of mediators from several countries, starting with Kuwait and including the US, Britain, France, Germany and, as of Sunday, Turkey, have shuttled around the Gulf trying to resolve the region's most serious dispute for years.

Some have speculated that the crisis will bring about the end of the GCC - or at least the end of Qatar's membership of of it.

While stating his willingness to finally talk about the crisis, Sheikh Tamim had conditions too. He said his country was open to dialogue if the sovereignty of Qatar were respected.

“The phase that Qatar is going through is very significant in terms of opportunities not only to build, but to fill gaps and correct mistakes," Sheikh Tamim said, speaking in calm, measured tones. "As you know, we are not afraid to analyse a mistake and correct it.”

The address came hours after the United Arab Emirates welcomed Qatar’s move to amend its counter-terrorism laws as a “positive step” toward addressing some of the demands at the heart of a rift that has divided the Gulf for nearly two months.

The quartet of boycotting nations have set out six principles as a basis for any attempt to resolve the crisis. The principles deal broadly with Qatar ending its alleged support for terrorist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, taking real steps to curb the financing of terrorism and reining back relations with Iran, arch-rival of Saudi Arabia.

After signing an agreement to investigate and stop funding terrorist groups, American secretary of state Rex Tillerson also voiced optimism, telling reporters in Washington earlier on Friday that the US was “satisfied with the effort” Qatar is making and urging its neighbours to consider lifting the land boycott as "a sign of good faith".

Rami G Khouri, a professor at the American University of Beirut, said Sheikh Tamim's speech was "forceful, defiant, steadfast but not aggressive or insulting" and also included “significant seeds” that coincide with some of the six broad principles that the quartet have laid out.

Sheikh Tamim said Qatar was willing to take part in a dialogue to find solutions to the disputes, and that he hoped Kuwait’s efforts at mediation would succeed. He also reiterated his government’s stance that it is “fighting terrorism relentlessly and without compromises”.

But this crisis is also about perception. Kamran Bokhari, a senior analyst at Geopolitical Futures, said the government in Doha did not want to appear intransigent. "By being flexible, Qatar is trying to make the other side look bad. In many ways, this has been the Qatari position all along: they will not compromise on their right to pursue an independent foreign policy but are willing to reach a negotiated settlement."

But the emir admitted the boycott was not proving easy and had emphasised the need for an opening of the Qatari economy, which was no longer a luxury but an obligation.

“I don’t want to underestimate the pain and suffering that the blockade has inflicted, and I hope that such an approach in dealing with brothers ends,” Sheikh Tamim said. “This approach has harmed all of the Gulf Corporation Council’s countries and their image in the world.”

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