The crisis in the Gulf over Qatar’s ties to terrorism and Iran took an even more serious turn as Arab states issued an ultimatum to Doha demanding that it close the propaganda media outlet Al Jazeera, cut ties with Iran, remove a Turkish military base, and pay reparations.
Qatar is not expected to comply with any of these demands.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have sent a 13-point list of demands apparently aimed at dismantling their tiny but wealthy neighbor’s two-decade-old interventionist foreign policy which has incensed them. Kuwait is helping mediate the dispute.
A Qatari government spokesman said Doha was reviewing the list of demands and that a formal response would be made by the foreign ministry and delivered to Kuwait, but added that the demands were not reasonable or actionable.
“This list of demands confirms what Qatar has said from the beginning – the illegal blockade has nothing to do with combating terrorism, it is about limiting Qatar’s sovereignty, and outsourcing our foreign policy,” Sheikh Saif al-Thani director of Qatar’s government communications office, said in a statement.
A Qatar semi-government human rights body said the demands were a violation of human rights conventions and should not be accepted by Qatar.
Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani had said on Monday that Qatar would not negotiate with the four states until economic, diplomatic and travel ties cut this month were restored.
The countries that imposed the sanctions accuse Qatar of funding terrorism, fomenting regional unrest and drawing too close to their enemy Iran. Qatar rejects those accusations and says it is being punished for straying from its neighbors’ backing for authoritarian hereditary and military rulers.
The uncompromising demands leave little prospect for a quick end to the biggest diplomatic crisis for years between Sunni Arab Gulf states, regional analysts said.
“The demands are so aggressive that it makes it close to impossible to currently see a resolution of that conflict,” said Olivier Jakob, a strategist at Switzerland-based oil consultancy Petromatrix.
Ibrahim Fraihat, Conflict Resolution Professor at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, forecast a prolonged stand-off.
Qatar will reject the demands as a “non-starter”, he said, and its neighbors had already escalated as far as they were likely to go. “Military action remains unlikely at the moment so the outcome after the deadline would be a political stalemate[.]”
The four Sunni Arab states have boycotted Qatari products and the country’s government-run airline.
This is a dispute that has been simmering for years, according to the UAE ambassador.
Al Otaiba: This is a consistent pattern of behavior [by Qatar]. Let me start by telling you what it is not– what it’s not is an overreaction; it’s not a hasty decision. It’s not something that we came to in a rush.
Al Otaiba: So to point out some context, three years ago, we had a meeting in Riyadh under the leadership of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. In that meeting we had a confrontation essentially… and the leadership of Qatar, Emir Tamim [bin Hamad Al Thani], signed a document that pledged that he will stop and refrain from doing all the things that we’ve been complaining about.
Al Otaiba: The document has been released to the member countries. I don’t think it’s ever been released to the public, but the same things that we have said he has violated, are the same things that we are complaining about now, which are support for terrorist and extremist, meddling in our internal affairs, and using their media to attack us and incite. …
James Rosen: Is it possible that it derives from philosophical wellspring or theological wellspring?
Al Otaiba: It’s one of two things: it’s either an ideological proximity to extremism, to terrorism, political Islam, groups like Hamas, groups like the Muslim Brotherhood who live opening in Qatar or it’s hedging. It’s opportunism. It’s perhaps seeking to play a larger role in a region where Qatar is not allowed to play a larger role because of their size.
President Trump has taken credit for the crackdown on Qatar by Arab states. The ambassador confirmed that:
Al Otaiba: I think the excitement we see in President Trump is really because he addresses our two core problems in a very straight forward way. Our two problems in the region are two threats: are Iran and extremism, and on both of those situations President Trump has indicated that he wants to tackle those head on. You can look at the Cabinet around President Trump and you would feel very relieved. I think for any president of the United States, this foreign policy team could be considered the dream team. I mean [Defense] Secretary Maddis, Secretary [of State] Tillerson and [CIA] Director Pompeo, [National Security Adviser] General McMaster…These are very, very serious people.
Military action by the Sunni Arab states against Qatar is not likely, but a protracted political crisis in the region is not in the interest of the United States. Qatar seems determined to continue funding terrorism and cozying up to Iran. Until it can be persuaded otherwise, the crisis will only get worse.