France calls for lift­ing Qatar mea­sures

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - FAY ABUELGASIM AND AYA BATRAWY

DOHA, Qatar — France’s for­eign min­is­ter on Satur­day called on Qatar’s neigh­bors to im­me­di­ately lift mea­sures af­fect­ing thou­sands of peo­ple in the Per­sian Gulf, be­com­ing the lat­est for­eign diplo­mat to visit the re­gion and at­tempt to find a res­o­lu­tion to a dis­pute that has dragged on for more than a month.

In early June, Saudi Ara­bia, the United Arab Emi­rates, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with Qatar and moved to iso­late the 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, af­fect­ing a key source of food im­ports in the mostly desert na­tion.

The four coun­tries ex­pelled all Qatari na­tion­als, af­fect­ing mixed-na­tion­al­ity fam­i­lies in the Gulf, among others. Be­fore the dis­pute, Qataris could travel visa-free between the Gulf coun­tries.

French For­eign Min­is­ter Jean-Yves 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 spoke in Qatar along­side Qatari For­eign Min­is­ter Sheikh Mo­hammed bin Ab­dul­rah­man Al Thani, who said he wel­comed me­di­a­tion ef­forts and pos­si­ble ne­go­ti­a­tions as long as they are based on re­spect for “sovereignty.”

Af­ter his visit to Qatar, Le Drian headed to Saudi Ara­bia, where he met with Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man. In re­marks to re­porters Satur­day evening, Le Drian said France seeks to play a sup­port­ive role in the me­di­a­tion ef­forts. He is sched­uled to visit the UAE and Kuwait next.

The Arab quar­tet has de­manded that Qatar end its sup­port of ex­trem­ist groups, but also its sup­port of Is­lamist po­lit­i­cal dis­si­dents they brand as ter­ror­ists but whom many Western al­lies do not. Other de­mands in­clude shut­ting down Qatar’s Al-Jazeera net­work, curb­ing ties with Iran and ex­pelling Turk­ish troops sta­tioned in Qatar.

Qatar has re­jected the de­mands, say­ing 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 af­fected sig­nif­i­cantly in­side Qatar. The gov­ern­ment has stepped in to help pay ad­di­tional costs of ship­ping and has looked to its al­lies, in­clud­ing Turkey, for food im­ports.

With Qatar hold­ing firm to its po­si­tion, a top UAE 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 last week, U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son vis­ited 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 com­bat­ing 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 U.S. planned to con­tinue its at­tempts to me­di­ate an end to the dis­pute.

Qatar hosts al-Udeid Air Base, the largest U.S. mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tion in the Mid­dle East and a hub for U.S.-led op­er­a­tions against the Is­lamic State mil­i­tant 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 U.S. and Europe to beef up their mil­i­taries. All three are con­sid­ered al­lies of many Western na­tions.

AP/Qatar News Agency

For­eign Min­is­ters Jean-Yves Le Drian of France and Mo­hammed bin Ab­dul­rah­man al-Thani of Qatar call Satur­day in Doha for an end to puni­tive mea­sures against Qatar.

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