x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 23 October 2017

UAE wants resolution, not alleviation of Qatar problem

Measures to simply ease tensions will lead to worse crises, says Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah

Rex Tillerson at a joint news conference with Qatar's foreign minister during his visit to Doha last week
Rex Tillerson at a joint news conference with Qatar's foreign minister during his visit to Doha last week

The UAE said efforts to ease tensions rather than directly address the problem between Qatar and the Arab countries isolating it will only lead to worse crises in future.

"We believe that there are two ways of dealing with things, whether to try and ease tension or try to address a problem," Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, said on Thursday. “We do not believe that an attempt to ease the tension will address the matter, but will lead to delaying the problem, which will lead to a doubling of the situation in the future.”

Sheikh Abdullah’s remarks came as US secretary of state Rex Tillerson returned to Doha for a final round of talks after a meeting with his Kuwaiti counterpart in Kuwait City, which has played a mediatory role in an effort to resolve the deadlock between Qatar and four Arab nations.

The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt have been boycotting Qatar since June 5 over what they say is Doha’s support of terrorism.

The foreign minister welcomed the agreement signed on Tuesday between the US and Qatar to stem fund-raising for terrorist groups, but said concerns remain that the latter will not follow through.

“The state of Qatar signed two agreements with the GCC countries in 1993 and 1994, but it did not abide by them,” said Sheikh Abdullah. “Qatar needs to do more to improve confidence in what it signs and what it actually implements.

“We, of course, welcome Qatar’s signing of this agreement, but Qatar must also double its efforts to change the impression of many countries over its harbouring, supporting and funding of terrorism, as well as for voicing extremist views, inciting violence and hatred.”

Qatar’s alleged toleration of fund-raising for terrorist groups was one of the key issues raised by the quartet of countries isolating the GCC member, and a concern that has been repeated by Washington. But another, and some analysts say deeper, cause of the current crisis is Doha’s support for political Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood that Riyadh and Abu Dhabi view as destabilising extremist forces, but which western countries do not consider to be terrorist groups.

"We in the region have decided not to allow any kind of tolerance towards extremist groups, terrorist groups and hate groups," Sheikh Abdullah said. "Our region has suffered enough, so when nations like Saudi Arabia and Egypt have decided to do that, we are optimistic," he said. “If Qatar wants to be a member of this alliance, then [it is] more than welcome, but if Qatar wants to be on the other side, then as we say in Arabic, ‘It’s time to say good bye’."

Mr Tillerson later held talks with the Qatari emir during his second visit to Doha this week, before departing for Washington. He was scheduled to discuss his meetings with the Saudi Arabia's King Salman and other officials of the four countries on Wednesday.

Although details of the talks have not been made public, US officials told Bloomberg News that Mr Tillerson presented both sides with a number of options that could help lead to a resolution and that could be “hashed out” under Kuwait’s mediation.

A second round of talks, involving Britain, on these options could begin as early as next week, the officials added.

However, there has been no sign yet that Tuesday’s agreement between Washington and Doha to stem fund-raising for terrorist groups has eased tensions between Qatar and its neighbours.

The four countries said in a joint statement that the deal was the result of their “repeated pressures and demands”, adding that it was “not enough”.

Qatari officials framed the memorandum of understanding as being unrelated to the crisis, saying that the agreement should serve as a model for the other GCC countries.

Saudi Arabia set up a task force with US financial counter-terrorism officials in the mid-2000s, and the UAE set up a regional monitoring group with the US in 2014, though few details have been available about its operations.

Despite greater apparent agreement between US president Donald Trump and Mr Tillerson about the need for a quick resolution to the crisis — which US officials say is undermining core US interests — Mr Tillerson’s efforts so far have not been sufficient for either side to change its position.

There has even been a growing sense voiced by analysts and figures close to Riyadh that Mr Tillerson is perceived to be taking Doha’s side, as it has become clearer that the quartet will not receive the full support of the US administration on their demands.

But other observers remain optimistic, and point to the lack of leaks around Mr Tillerson’s talks as well as an emerging area where the two sides may be able to compromise — the potential restructuring of Al Jazeera Arabic, which has been a mouthpiece for Islamists and sectarian bigots and given airtime to terrorist commanders.

Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of State for FNC Affairs, told the Guardian newspaper on Wednesday that the UAE is calling for new editorial controls of Al Jazeera Arabic, and not a full closure of the outlet.

On Thursday, the ambassador to Moscow, Omar Ghobash, told CNN that Al Jazeera Arabic cannot be allowed to let extremist viewpoints "dominate the airwaves". Mr Ghobash said that "what Al Jazeera says is they're trying to provide as broad an information base as possible. Unfortunately, what they're also doing is allowing terrorist and extremists of all sorts to be able to dominate the airwaves, in a way that more liberal voices are not allowed to."

He also addressed a new report on the human toll to Qataris and other GCC citizens of the boycott, saying that "surely there is a continuum along which it can judge whether these are gross violations or serious violations or maybe minor violations that are aimed toward creating a much better Middle East".

"We aren't blind to issues that have arisen at the level of families," he added. "And we are looking into how we can solve some of those problems as quickly as possible."

Meanwhile in Washington, the US defence secretary James Mattis met Bahrain's interior minister, Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa, at the Pentagon. Bahrain hosts a key US naval base in the Gulf region.