Tuesday 28 January 2020

Kuwait leader visits Qatar to end 'cut-off' crisis as Arab nations attempt to isolate energy-rich country

Qatari foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani speaks to journalists (Bilal Hussein/AP)
Qatari foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani speaks to journalists (Bilal Hussein/AP)
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

Kuwait's emir has travelled to Qatar and met the country's leader as part of his efforts to mediate an end to a crisis that has seen Arab nations cut ties to the energy-rich country and attempt to isolate it.

Kuwait's Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah was met planeside by Qatar's emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, when he arrived on Wednesday night.

The Qatari Foreign Ministry said in a statement the two held talks on how "restore the normal relations" of the Gulf as the 2022 Fifa World Cup host and international air travel hub now finds itself isolated by land, sea and air.

But the visit came after Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said that Qatar has "chosen to ride the tiger of extremism and terrorism" and now needed to pay the price, despite Qatar long denying the allegation.

Mr Gargash said Qatar "definitely" should expel members of Hamas, stop its support of terror groups "with al Qaida DNA" around the world and rein in the many media outlets it funds, chief among them the Doha-based satellite news network Al-Jazeera.

Their "fingerprints are all over the place" in terror funding, Mr Gargash said. "Enough is enough."

Qatari officials declined to comment on Mr Gargash's comments. Its foreign minister has struck a defiant tone in interviews, even after worried residents emptied grocery stores in its capital of Doha as Saudi Arabia has blocked trucks carrying food from entering the country.

Its flag carrier Qatar Airways now flies increasingly over Iran and Turkey after being blocked elsewhere over the Middle East. Emirati officials also shut down the airline's offices in the UAE on Wednesday.

Al-Jazeera offices also have been shut down by authorities in Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Meanwhile, Turkey's parliament approved sending troops to an existing Turkish base in Qatar as a sign of support.

The international agency Standard and Poors (S&P) announced on Wednesday that it lowered its rating on Qatar's long-term debt to AA-minus because of the country's dispute with its neighbours.

S&P said those countries' severing of diplomatic and business links "will exacerbate Qatar's external vulnerabilities and could put pressure on economic growth and fiscal" stability.

US president Donald Trump, who tweeted on Tuesday about Qatar funding extremists, called Sheikh Tamim on Wednesday and offered to host leaders at the White House to resolve the crisis.

It is unclear whether the Qatari leader would accept, especially as one outspoken Emirati ruling family member, the writer and political analyst Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, has raised the prospect of Qatar's leadership changing.

"Qataris are questioning whether this is going to end up in seeing a change in leadership itself in Qatar," he said in his office in Sharjah, near Dubai.

"So it is a very serious issue. Again, this is Qataris speaking to international media wondering whether this is possible at all."

The Gulf countries have ordered their citizens out of Qatar and gave Qataris abroad 14 days to return home. The countries also said they would eject Qatar's diplomats.

The crisis began in part over what the Qataris described as a false news report planted during a hack of its state-run news agency.

An initial report on the hack from Qatar's Interior Ministry late on Wednesday said the website of the Qatar News Agency was initially hacked in April with "high techniques and innovative methods". It said hackers installed a file and then published a fake news item attributed to Sheikh Tamim just after midnight on May 24.

The ministry did not say who it suspected carried out the attack, though it thanked the FBI and the British National Commission for Combating Crime for assisting it in its investigation.

Russia denied on Wednesday it hacked the agency after a CNN report quoted anonymous US officials saying they suspected Russian hackers.

PA Media

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