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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Qatari emir arrives in Turkey on first trip abroad since spark of GCC crisis

This marks the emir’s first trip abroad since Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic and transport ties with Qatar on June 5 over its alleged support of terror groups

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan meets with Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani in Ankara, Turkey, September 14, 2017
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan meets with Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani in Ankara, Turkey, September 14, 2017

The emir of Qatar arrived in Turkey on Thursday amid a more entrenched diplomatic crisis at home that looks unlikely to break after 100 days of boycott by neighbouring countries.

Sheikh Tamim Al Thani was last seen in public on September 11 on a trip to the US military base in Qatar. The base serves as the largest in the region holding 10,000 US troops and has caused Washington to delicately navigate the diplomatic crisis.

The Qatari emir and Mr Erdogan held talks at presidential palace in the capital Ankara, the Turkish presidency said.

This marks the emir’s first trip abroad since Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic ties with Qatar on June 5 over its alleged support of terror groups.

On Friday, Sheikh Tamim will visit Germany to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel and will then head to France to meet with the president, Emmanuel Macron.

Turkey has supported Qatar and helped supply food and other goods after the Arab quartet announced it cut transport ties with its neighbour.

President Erdogan visited Doha on July 23 in the hope of de-escalating the impasse between Doha and the four nations, which also accuse Qatar of interfering in the internal affairs of other countries.

Mr Erdogan has repeatedly voiced support for Qatar in its dispute with its neighbours and criticised the demands issued by the four boycotting countries, whose leaders say are prerequisites for ending the sanctions.

One of the demands was the closure of the Turkish military base in Qatar, which Mr Erdogan said was “disrespectful against Turkey”.

Although Turkey maintains that the military deployment stems from a 2014 agreement, the decision to send troops to Qatar — the only Turkish military presence in the region — was rushed through the Turkish parliament just days after Doha was isolated by the quartet.

The base currently holds 150 Turkish troops, but the agreement between the two countries will gradually increase the number to 3,000.

Kuwait’s prime minister Sheikh Jaber Al Mubarak met with his Turkish counterpart, Binali Yildirim, and Mr Erdogan on Wednesday during a trip to Ankara to discuss bilateral ties. The Kuwaiti premier likely discussed the crisis with the Turkish authorities as the Gulf country continues to play the role of chief mediator in the stalemate.

Mr Yildirim said on Wednesday that Kuwait’s mediation in the Qatar crisis had led to a significant de-escalation of tension in the Gulf.

During a visit to Washington over the weekend, Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Jaber said his countries’ mediation successfully stopped a military intervention.

In a report released on Wednesday, rating agency Moody's said the three-month dispute had created uncertainty across the Gulf region and could negatively affect the credit outlook of all the countries involved.

Qatar has injected $38 billion (Dh139 billion) into its economy to counter the embargo. Failure of mediation efforts makes prospect of quick resolution unlikely, says Moody’s. The number of visitors to Doha from GCC neighbours fell more than 70 per cent since the travel curbs were imposed

The credit agency estimates that the equivalent of 23 per cent of gross domestic product was used to support the economy during the first two months of the embargo.

The crisis has caused Qatari imports to fall 40 per cent in June from a year earlier and 35 per cent in July, Bloomberg reported.

The quartet’s measures have exacerbated a broader slowdown in Qatar triggered by lower energy prices, with economists expecting gross domestic product to expand at the slowest pace since 1995 this year. Reserves of foreign currency meanwhile tumbled 30 per cent in June.