GCC reconciliation attempts with Qatar face new obstacles

UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash accused Doha of trying to cause “division” among countries involved in the dispute.
Sunday 22/12/2019
Birds of a feather. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L) and Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani at the Doha Forum in the Qatari capital, December 15. (AFP)
Birds of a feather. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L) and Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani at the Doha Forum in the Qatari capital, December 15. (AFP)

LONDON - Statements by Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani regarding rapprochement of Qatar with Saudi Arabia irked members of the Gulf Cooperation Council and risked prolonging the 30-month dispute.

In interviews addressing developments with Riyadh, Thani said the “stalemate” with Saudi Arabia had been broken.

“There (is) some progress… We have broken the stalemate of non-communication to starting communication with the Saudis,” Thani told CNN on December 15.

In an interview with Bloomberg TV, Thani confirmed that talks on resolving the dispute had only included Saudi Arabia and none of the other members of the Arab Quartet — the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt — that severed ties with Doha in 2017.

“Our conversation right now is with Saudi Arabia and we think we are going to look at the rest of the issues at a later stage,” Thani said.

In June 2017, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt imposed a boycott on Qatar over accusations it was funding radical Islamist groups and fostering close ties with Iran at the expense of neighbouring countries.

The Arab Quartet issued demands for Qatar to comply with to normalise relations, which included severing ties with Islamic extremists, shutting Al Jazeera TV and scaling back relations with Tehran.

Instead, Doha strengthened relations with Iran, while expanding ties with the Muslim Brotherhood-friendly government in Turkey, which Thani said would continue and was non-negotiable. Turkey has established two military bases in Qatar since June 2017.

Thani’s statements did not sit well with some Gulf officials, particularly in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia’s main regional partner.

UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash, writing on Twitter, accused Doha of trying to cause “division” among countries involved in the dispute.

“The latest Qatari leaks concerning solving Doha’s crisis with sisterly Saudi Arabia, without the three [other] countries, is a repetition of Doha’s aims to [cause] division and evade its commitments,” Gargash said.

“Riyadh is leading a wide front [composed] of its brotherly [countries] in this portfolio and other regional portfolios, and its commitment to demands and allies is essential and firm.”

A diplomatic source in the Gulf said Doha’s “divide and conquer” attempts might put talks with Saudi Arabia at a dead end. The source said Riyadh, which is the leader of the boycott, assured mediators that Qatar needs to fully comply with the quartet’s demands.

Recent developments might hinder Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) reconciliation. These include an online campaign calling for a boycott of Emirati products sold in Saudi Arabia. UAE officials said they suspect the campaign originated in Qatar.

Under the hashtag “Boycott Emirati products,” online campaigners called on consumers in Saudi Arabia to shun products from the United Arab Emirates, especially tobacco-based products, alleging they contain “lethal poison.”

Campaign supporters targeted goods manufactured in the Jebel Ali Free Zone in Dubai, claiming the products were made for export and prohibited from being sold in the United Arab Emirates.

The Dubai Media Office said: “Investigations showed that the false campaign was promoted by social media users from outside Saudi Arabia.”

It said the campaign was from countries known for their “hostility towards the United Arab Emirates” and that the goal was to create tension between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

In an interview on Saudi Television, Hisham al-Jadhey, CEO of the Saudi Food and Drug Authority, said reports that products were causing health problems were untrue and that products exported into the kingdom were in line with the standards of the World Health Organisation.

Thani’s statements, which UAE and Bahraini officials coupled with the subsequent campaign against UAE products, are the latest obstacles facing GCC reconciliation and could make attempts at it with Qatar even more daunting.

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