Qatar vows to defy block­ade

Sunday Star-Times - - WORLD - Me­shal bin Ha­mad al-Thani, Qatari am­bas­sador to the US

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.’’

REUTERS

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.

REUTERS

Turk­ish troops ar­rive at their base in Doha yes­ter­day to boost Turkey’s mil­i­tary force in Qatar, which has an­gered Saudi Ara­bia.

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