France wades into Gulf row

Paris aims to be ‘fa­cil­i­ta­tor’ in cri­sis talks

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

France’s for­eign min­is­ter yes­ter­day called on Qatar’s neigh­bors to im­me­di­ately lift mea­sures im­pact­ing thou­sands of peo­ple in the Gulf, be­com­ing the lat­est for­eign diplo­mat to visit the re­gion and at­tempt to find a res­o­lu­tion to a cri­sis that has dragged on for more than a month. Jean-Yves Le Drian said in Doha yes­ter­day that Paris wants to as­sist Kuwait-led me­di­a­tion on the cri­sis. “France should be a fa­cil­i­ta­tor in the me­di­a­tion” led by Kuwait, Le Drian told re­porters fol­low­ing talks with his Qatari coun­ter­part Sheikh Mo­hammed bin Ab­dul­rah­man Al-Thani.

In early June, Saudi Ara­bia, the United Arab Emi­rates, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with Qatar and moved to iso­late the small, but wealthy Gulf na­tion, can­cel­ing air routes be­tween their cap­i­tals and Qatar’s and clos­ing their airspace to Qatari flights. Saudi Ara­bia also sealed Qatar’s only land bor­der, im­pact­ing a key source of food im­ports in the mostly desert na­tion.

The four coun­tries also ex­pelled all Qatari na­tion­als, im­pact­ing mixed-na­tion­al­ity fam­i­lies in the Gulf, stu­dents and peo­ple seek­ing med­i­cal treat­ment abroad, among oth­ers. Prior to the dis­pute, Qataris could travel visa-free be­tween the Gulf coun­tries. Le Drian said such puni­tive mea­sures should end. “France is call­ing for th­ese mea­sures to be lifted, es­pe­cially ones that af­fect the (Qatari) pop­u­la­tion, specif­i­cally mea­sures that im­pact bi-na­tional fam­i­lies that have been sep­a­rated,” Le Drian said.

He was speak­ing to re­porters in Qatar along­side Sheikh Mo­hammed, who said he wel­comed me­di­a­tion ef­forts and pos­si­ble ne­go­ti­a­tions so long as they are founded on re­spect for “sovereignty”. The Arab quar­tet has de­manded Qatar end its sup­port of ex­trem­ist groups, but also its sup­port of Is­lamist po­lit­i­cal dis­si­dents they brand as ter­ror­ists, but which many Western al­lies do not. Other de­mands in­clude shut­ting down Qatar’s flag­ship Al-Jazeera net­work, curb­ing ties with Iran and ex­pelling Turk­ish troops sta­tioned in Qatar.

Qatar has re­jected the de­mands, say­ing that the list in its en­tirety in­fringes on na­tional sovereignty. Qatar also re­jects al­le­ga­tions it has sup­ported ter­ror groups. De­spite the block­ade by the four Arab coun­tries, life has not been im­pacted sig­nif­i­cantly in Qatar. The gov­ern­ment has stepped in to help pay ad­di­tional costs of shipping and has looked to its al­lies, like Tur­key, for food im­ports.

With Qatar hold­ing firm to its po­si­tion, a top Emi­rati diplo­mat cau­tioned that the diplo­matic stand­off could be pro­longed. “We are head­ing to­ward a long es­trange­ment,” UAE Min­is­ter of State for For­eign Re­la­tions An­war Al-Gar­gash wrote on Twit­ter. “The re­al­ity is we are far from a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion that changes Qatar’s course. In light of that, noth­ing will change and we must look to a dif­fer­ent mode in re­la­tions,” he added.

Ear­lier in the week, US Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son was in the Gulf, meet­ing sep­a­rately with of­fi­cials in Qatar, Saudi Ara­bia and Kuwait, which is try­ing to me­di­ate the dis­pute. In Qatar, he se­cured an agree­ment to en­hance co­op­er­a­tion on com­bat­ting ter­ror­ism and ter­ror fi­nanc­ing. Saudi com­men­ta­tors crit­i­cized the re­sult of Tiller­son’s visit to Qatar, say­ing the signed coun­tert­er­ror­ism agree­ment fell far short of the de­mands made for Qatar to change its pol­icy of sup­port­ing Is­lamists. Tiller­son, how­ever, said the dis­cus­sions had been “help­ful” and that the US planned to keep at it.

Qatar’s For­eign Min­is­ter told re­porters in Tur­key on Fri­day that it would be un­fair to de­scribe Tiller­son’s visit to the Gulf as a fail­ure, in­sist­ing that the cri­sis “can­not be solved in a day”. Qatar hosts Al-Udeid Air Base, the largest US mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tion in the Mid­dle East and hub for US-led op­er­a­tions against the Is­lamic State group in Iraq and Syria. Saudi Ara­bia, the UAE and Qatar are among the world’s big­gest mil­i­tary spenders, pur­chas­ing bil­lions of dol­lars in equip­ment from the US and Europe to beef up their mil­i­taries. All three are con­sid­ered al­lies of many Western na­tions.

Mean­while, in Wash­ing­ton, Qatar at­tended an in­ter­na­tional meet­ing on coun­ter­ing Is­lamic State group fi­nanc­ing on Fri­day. Af­ter the meet­ing, Qatar said a united front is re­quired. “We must not be dis­tracted from our cam­paign to root out ISIS and cut off their flow of funds,” said a state­ment dis­trib­uted by Qatar’s gov­ern­ment com­mu­ni­ca­tion of­fice, re­fer­ring to the IS group us­ing a dif­fer­ent acro­nym. The Arab quar­tet, how­ever, view Qatar’s poli­cies in the re­gion as a big­ger and more im­me­di­ate threat. — Agen­cies


DOHA: Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Ha­mad Al-Thani meets French Min­is­ter of Europe and For­eign Af­fairs Jean-Yves Le Drian in the Qatari cap­i­tal yes­ter­day.

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