Qatari en­voy sees new un­der­stand­ing from Wash­ing­ton in feud.

Tiller­son tak­ing mod­er­ate route to Gulf dis­pute

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY CARLO MUNOZ

Qatar’s for­eign min­is­ter ex­pressed op­ti­mism Thurs­day that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is mov­ing his coun­try’s way in a bit­ter feud with Saudi Ara­bia and other Gulf states, as both sides con­ducted in­tense lob­by­ing of the U.S. gov­ern­ment.

Qatari For­eign Min­is­ter Mo­hammed bin Ab­dul­rah­man al-Thani said Thurs­day it ap­peared Pres­i­dent Trump was mov­ing closer to Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son’s more mod­er­ate ap­proach to the dis­pute, which threat­ens to di­vide key U.S. al­lies in the Gulf and po­ten­tially give Iran a chance to ex­pand its in­flu­ence. Mr. Trump orig­i­nally voiced sym­pa­thy for com­plaints by Saudi Ara­bia, Egypt and other states about Qatar’s sus­pected sup­port for ter­ror groups in the re­gion, but Mr. Tiller­son has tried to me­di­ate the feud and has sug­gested the Saudi de­mands were too broad and un­re­al­is­tic.

But Mr. al-Thani re­mained cau­tious as to what will hap­pen when the 10day win­dow to com­ply with Riyadh’s de­mands ex­pires.

Saudi Ara­bia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emi­rates abruptly cut diplo­matic and eco­nomic ties ear­lier this month while de­mand­ing ma­jor changes in Qatari for­eign pol­icy, from cut­ting links to the Mus­lim Brother­hood and Iran to shut­ting down the Qatar-based and -fi­nanced news net­work Al Jazeera.

“We are will­ing to ne­go­ti­ate with any of the blockad­ing coun­tries,” Mr. al-Thani said in re­marks at an event spon­sored by the Arab Cen­ter in Wash­ing­ton. But any deal to end the em­bargo and block­ade would re­quire that all par­ties in­volved “re­spect the sovereignty of Qatar.”

Qatar, a ma­jor­ity Sunni Arab na­tion like the UAE, Saudi Ara­bia and Egypt, has long kept up ties to Shi­ite Iran, with whom Doha shares a mas­sive nat­u­ral gas field. It has also pre­served re­la­tions with the Mus­lim Brother­hood, the Is­lamist move­ment that sup­ported for­mer Egyp­tian Pres­i­dent Mo­hammed Morsi, who was ousted in a 2013 mil­i­tary coup.

On Thurs­day, Mr. al-Thani de­fended Qatar’s record in bat­tling ex­trem­ism in the re­gion.

“I will put our record [on bat­tling ter­ror­ism] against the record of any of the blockad­ing coun­tries,” he said. Iran, he added, “is our neigh­bor . ... We have to main­tain ties with them.”

While Doha would like Wash­ing­ton to take a bigger role in get­ting Saudi Ara­bia and its al­lies to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble, Mr. al-Thani said that Qatar would not use the mas­sive U.S. air base in the coun­try as a bar­gain­ing chip with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Qatar is home to Al Udeid air base, which is not only U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand’s Mideast head­quar­ters, it is also the “nerve cen­ter” for air cam­paigns in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and at least 17 other na­tions, ac­cord­ing to the Air Force.

“We do not need lever­age with the United States” to get Wash­ing­ton to stay in­volved, Mr. al-Thani said, adding the U.S. could serve as a diplo­matic bridge be­tween Riyadh and its al­lies to con­vince that Arab bloc to come to the ne­go­ti­a­tion ta­ble. Mr. al-Thani also praised Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee Chair­man Bob Corker’s pro­posal to block any fu­ture arms sales to any Gulf na­tions un­til the Qatar sit­u­a­tion is re­solved. That move, he added, “will be very help­ful in get­ting all par­ties to ne­go­ti­a­tions.”

His com­ments come days af­ter Doha re­fused a string of de­mands is­sued by Saudi Ara­bia and its al­lies in the Gulf Co­op­er­a­tion Coun­cil, who in­sti­tuted the em­bargo and block­age against Qatar ear­lier this month.

The de­mands, ac­cord­ing to Mr. alThani, were not a re­al­is­tic ef­fort to­ward rec­on­cil­i­a­tion but a half-hearted at­tempt by GCC mem­bers to show the re­gion they were mak­ing an ef­fort to­ward end­ing the cri­sis. “Th­ese de­mands are an ob­sta­cle to a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion,” he said Thurs­day.

Saudi For­eign Min­ster Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir, who has also been in Wash­ing­ton this week, showed lit­tle sign of mod­er­at­ing the king­dom’s de­mands, say­ing Saudi Ara­bia’s po­si­tion was “non-ne­go­tiable.”

Mr. Tiller­son has re­peat­edly called for cool­ing ten­sions and eas­ing the block­ade, say­ing the im­passe was hav­ing an im­pact on U.S. mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions in Qatar. Mr. al-Thani said his re­cent talks with Mr. Tiller­son has only re­in­forced at­ti­tudes in Doha that the U.S. will help foster an en­vi­ron­ment where a deal can be reached.

Qatar is also look­ing to its Euro­pean al­lies to help break the diplo­matic im­passe in the re­gion, and said Mr. Trump’s mod­er­at­ing stance will prove a ben­e­fit.

“We think now he is lis­ten­ing more to his agen­cies,” es­pe­cially those at the State Depart­ment, to get a bet­ter grasp of the sit­u­a­tion and its pos­si­ble im­pli­ca­tions, Mr. al-Thani said.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son shakes hands with Qatari For­eign Min­is­ter Sheikh Mo­hammed bin Ab­dul­rah­man al-Thani Tues­day. Mr. Tiller­son has tried to me­di­ate the feud be­tween Qatar and Saudi Ara­bia and sug­gested Saudi de­mands were too broad.

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