Nations huddle over Qatar reply
Arab states to meet on next move, vow ‘timely’ response
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A quartet of Arab nations said they have received Qatar’s response to their demands for ending a diplomatic crisis gripping the Persian Gulf.
A joint statement issued early today said Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates would respond “in a timely manner.” It did not elaborate. Foreign ministers from the four countries are to meet later today in Cairo.
Before receiving the response, United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan declined to say what action the countries may take against Qatar. The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with Qatar early last month over claims of support for extremist groups and ties with Iran.
Qatar denies supporting extremists and has defended its warm relations with Iran; the two countries share a huge undersea natural gas field.
Sheikh Abdullah’s comments suggest the countries are prepared to take further action against Qatar as a 48-hour extension of a deadline for Qatar to accept their conditions draws to a close.
“To defeat terrorism, we must confront extremism, we must confront hate speech, we must confront the harboring and sheltering of extremists and terrorists, and funding them,” he said. “Unfortunately, we in this region see that our sister nation of Qatar has allowed and harbored and encouraged all of this.”
“Enough is enough,” he added.
The four countries cut off diplomatic ties to Qatar on June 5 and restricted its access to their airspace and ports while sealing its only land border, with Saudi Arabia. They issued a 13-point list of demands on June 22, giving Qatar 10 days to comply.
After the deadline expired early on Monday, the countries said they would give Qatar another 48 hours. The extension came at the request of Kuwait’s 88-year-old ruler, Sheikh Sabah Al Sabah, who has been trying to mediate, as he did during a similar dispute in 2014. That new deadline expires early today.
Qatar’s foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, traveled to Kuwait City on Monday carrying a handwritten note from Qatar’s ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, according to the state-run Kuwait News Agency.
Kuwaiti and Qatari officials have not responded to questions about what the Qatari letter said.
“Any steps taken by these countries in case Qatar fails to respond will be taken within the framework of international law, including the procedures that sovereign states have the right to take against another country,” United Arab Emirates’ Sheikh Abdullah said without elaborating.
The nations could impose financial sanctions or force Qatar out of the Gulf Cooperation Council, a regional body that serves as a counterbalance to Iran.
Some Arab media outlets have suggested a military confrontation or a change of leadership in Qatar could be in the offing, but officials have said those options are not on the table.
The United Arab Emirates foreign minister spoke alongside German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who said Germany supported the UAE’s efforts at confronting those who fund extremists.
“We now have this opportunity to reach good results for the benefit of the whole region. The matter is not related only to the sovereignty of Qatar,” Gabriel said. “We have to come back to common work at the [Gulf Cooperation Council] and for the Europeans this is a very important matter. For us, the [council] is the guarantor of stability and security in the region.”
Later Tuesday, the Kuwaiti emir dispatched an envoy from his court to the Qatari capital, Doha, with a letter for the Qatari ruler, Kuwait’s state news agency reported. It gave no details on the contents of the letter.
In a joint news conference in Doha with Al Thani, the Qatari foreign minister, Gabriel said he believed that Qatar deserved a fair reply and that he hoped the allies would act reasonably. In comments translated from German, he urged dialogue to resolve the dispute.
Gabriel said he expects the Saudi-led alliance to reject Qatar’s response to its conditions for ending the crisis, after he held two days of talks with officials from both sides.
In Doha, with Gabriel at his side, the Qatari foreign minister criticized the four Arab nations for trying to isolate Qatar “under the banner of fighting terrorism.”
“When measures clothed in this context, it is because they think they will be met with international sympathy because they are ‘anti-terrorism’ measures,” he said.
Qatar’s response was “in line with the general principle of preserving sovereignty” and not interfering in the internal affairs of other countries, Al Thani said in the news conference. He declined to give details of his country’s offer and again rejected claims that Qatar funded terrorist groups.
The crisis would be solved only through negotiation, he said, “regardless of how much the measures escalate” against Qatar.
Also on Tuesday, Qatar said it would dramatically increase its production of natural gas — the fuel that made the tiny emirate rich and gave it regional influence.
Saad Sherida al-Kaabi, chief executive of the national oil company, Qatar Petroleum, said at a news conference in Doha that the country’s output of liquefied natural gas would rise 30 percent over the next five to seven years. The announcement confirms that Qatar — already the world’s biggest producer of liquefied natural gas — is determined to shift back into a phase of rapid production expansion, after years of little growth.
The increase would be the equivalent of adding about 8 percent to the world’s current supply of the gas.
Early today the ratings agency Moody’s said it is changing its outlook on Qatar’s economy to negative, largely because of the ongoing diplomatic dispute.
Moody’s said in a statement that “the likelihood of a prolonged period of uncertainty extending into 2018 has increased and a quick resolution of the dispute is unlikely over the next few months.”
Moody’s said that “carries the risk that Qatar’s sovereign credit fundamentals could be negatively affected.”
Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan whispers Tuesday to German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel during a news conference at the United Arab Emirates’ Foreign Ministry in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.