Tuesday 22 August 2017

Arab states angry over Qatar's dismissal of demands

Officials from Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain meet in Cairo (AP)
Officials from Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain meet in Cairo (AP)
An image of Qatar's emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, on a billboard in Doha (AP)

Four Arab nations seeking to isolate Qatar over its alleged support for extremist groups have been angered by what they said was a "negative" response by the tiny Gulf nation to their demands for ending the crisis roiling the region.

Doha's response, they said, was "not serious" and betrayed Qatar's "failure" to realise the gravity of the situation.

The announcement followed a meeting by foreign ministers from the four nations - Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain - in Cairo, shortly after they said they had received Doha's reply.

The four accuse Qatar of supporting terror groups and also of maintaining close relations with Shiite power Iran - Saudi Arabia's nemesis. They also say Qatar must stop meddling in their affairs.

Egypt's foreign minister, Sameh Shukri, told reporters Qatar's response to the Arab states' 13-point list of demands was "negative on the whole". It did not "lay the foundations for Qatar's abandonment of the policies it pursues. It is a position that does not realise the gravity of the situation," he added.

The ministers did not say what their next steps would be - that, they explained, would be announced after further consultations. They will meet next in Bahrain, but a date has yet to be set.

"We hope wisdom will prevail and Qatar will eventually make the right decisions," Mr Shukri added.

The Emirati foreign minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan said Qatar was only interested in "destruction, incitement, extremism and terrorism", rather than in good neighbourly relations.

Mr Shukri said Qatar's policies could not be allowed to continue and vowed that Egyptian blood would not be shed in vain, a reference to deadly attacks by militants on Egyptian army and security forces. Cairo has long accused Qatar of supporting extremists in Egypt.

Earlier on Wednesday, US president Donald Trump called on all parties in the dispute to "negotiate constructively" and to "stop terrorist financing and discredit extremist ideology".

A White House statement said Mr Trump's call for a negotiated settlement came in a telephone conversation with Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

The dispute erupted early last month when the four Arab countries cut ties to the Fifa 2022 World Cup host. Qatar denies supporting extremists and has defended its warm relations with Iran; the two countries share a massive undersea natural gas field.

The four nations issued a 13-point list of demands on June 22, giving Qatar 10 days to comply. They later extended the deadline by another 48 hours at the request of Kuwait, which is trying to mediate the crisis. That second deadline expired early on Wednesday morning.

On Tuesday, intelligence chiefs from the four Arab countries met in Cairo, likely to discuss the crisis, according to Egypt's state MENA news agency.

Qatar's response was not made public but it had previously called the demands - which include shutting down its Al-Jazeera satellite news network, closing a Turkish military base in the country and paying restitution - an affront to its sovereignty.

The crisis has become a global concern as neither side appears to be backing down. Qatar, the world's biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas, hosts some 10,000 American troops at its sprawling al-Udeid Air Base.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been trying to ease tensions, while Mr Trump's earlier comments on Qatar funding extremist groups back the four countries' position.

The nations could impose financial sanctions or force Qatar out of the Gulf Cooperation Council, a regional body known as the GCC 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.

AP

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