Qatar vows to defy blockade
Faced with a sweeping set of demands, Qatar is insisting it can indefinitely survive the economic and diplomatic steps its neighbours have taken to try to pressure it into compliance, even as a top official warned the tiny country to brace for a long-term economic squeeze.
Given 10 days to make a decision, Qatar did not immediately render judgment yesterday on the specific concessions demanded of the tiny Persian Gulf nation, which include shuttering Arab TV news network Al-Jazeera and cutting ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
But Qatari officials didn’t budge from their previous insistence that they would not sit down with Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations to negotiate an end to the crisis while under siege.
‘‘I can assure you that our situation today is very comfortable,’’ Qatari ambassador to the United States Meshal bin Hamad al-Thani said. ‘‘Qatar could continue forever like that with no problems.’’
Asked whether Qatar felt pressure to resolve the crisis quickly, he said: ‘‘Not at all.’’
Qatar said yesterday it was reviewing the demands, but the list was not reasonable or actionable.
‘‘We are reviewing these demands out of respect for . . . regional security, and there will be an official response from our ministry of foreign affairs,’’ said Sheikh Saif al-Thani, the director of Qatar’s government communications office.
He said US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had recently called upon Saudi Arabia and the other countries to produce a list of grievances that was ‘‘reasonable and actionable’’, but ‘‘this list does not satisfy that criteria’’.
As the US stepped back from any central mediating role, all sides seemed to be settling in for a potentially protracted crisis.
Qatar’s neighbours have insisted that their 13-point list of demands is their bottom line, not a starting point for negotiations. They have signalled that if Qatar refuses to comply by the deadline, they will continue to restrict its access to land, sea and air routes indefinitely, as economic pressure mounts on the emirate.
The ultimatum was quickly rejected by Qatar’s ally, Turkey, and blasted as an assault on free speech by Al-Jazeera.
The demands from the Saudis, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain amount to a call for a sweeping overhaul of Qatar’s foreign policy and natural gasfunded This reflects basically an attempt from these countries to suppress free media and also undermine our sovereignty . . . They are bullies. influence-peddling in the region. Complying would force Qatar to bring its policies in line with the regional vision of Saudi Arabia, the Middle East’s biggest economy and gatekeeper of Qatar’s only land border.
‘‘This reflects basically an attempt from these countries to suppress free media and also undermine our sovereignty,’’ alThani said. ‘‘They are trying to impose their views on how the issues need to be dealt with in the Middle East. They are bullies.’’
The demands include shutting news outlets, curbing diplomatic relations with Iran, and severing all ties with Islamist groups.
The four countries cut ties with Qatar earlier this month over allegations that it funds terrorism – an accusation US President Donald Trump has echoed.
Qatar vehemently denies funding or supporting extremism but acknowledges that it allows members of some extremist groups such as Hamas to live in Qatar, arguing that fostering dialogue is key to resolving global conflicts.
Qatar is under a de facto blockade. Although residents made a run on the supermarket in the days after the crisis erupted, the situation has since calmed as Qatar has secured alternative sources of imported food from Turkey and elsewhere. Yet resisting the demands could prove difficult.
‘‘The four states can afford to wait, but Qatar cannot,’’ said Fawaz Gerges, a Middle East expert at the London School of Economics. ‘‘This crisis could threaten the political stability of the ruling family in Qatar in the long term if it lasts.’’
Qatari children hold flowers and pictures of Qatar’s ruler, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, while welcoming visitors at Hamad international airport in Doha yesterday. The closure of Qatar’s sole land border by Saudi Arabia has made the airport a crucial transport link for trade and tourism.
Turkish troops arrive at their base in Doha yesterday to boost Turkey’s military force in Qatar, which has angered Saudi Arabia.