Qatar isolation likely to escalate, new sanctions considered

Sunday 02/07/2017
Deadlock. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (R) walks with Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani at the US State Department in Washington, on June 27. (AP)

London- As the deadline for Qatar to comply with the list of demands of its neigh­bours neared, the likeli­hood of further isolation from Saudi Arabia and its allies ap­peared to be a reality the tiny Gulf country will face, with possible ramifications for its global trading partners.

The stalemate held as the dead­line approached, with Doha in­sisting that demands forwarded by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt were unreasonable. Doha called for ne­gotiations, which it had previously dismissed.

Riyadh appears to have become more intransigent about the de­mands given to Doha. Saudi For­eign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, post­ing on Twitter, stated that: “Our demands on Qatar are non-nego­tiable. It’s now up to Qatar to end its support for extremism and ter­rorism.”

Jubeir’s statement came as both sides of the stand-off met with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington.

“We made our point; we took our steps and it’s up to the Qataris to amend their behaviour. Once they do, things will be worked out but if they don’t, they will remain isolat­ed,” Jubeir said, adding that Qatar knows what it has to do to return to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) fold.

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al- Thani, in Washington on June 29, said Doha along with the United States and Kuwait, which is play­ing a mediator’s role in the crisis, would be preparing responses re­garding the 13 demands but did not specify a time frame.

“We have to set the conditions first to pursue these negotiations,” Sheikh Mohammed said. However, the likelihood of his response be­ing received well by either Riyadh or Abu Dhabi appeared to be slim, considering statements from Sau­di, UAE and Egyptian officials.

Western countries might eventu­ally be forced to choose sides, UAE Ambassador to Russia Omar Saif Ghobash said, a notion which could result in significant economic ram­ifications on GCC trading partners.

“You’d be forced to choose be­tween wanting to do business with an extremist agenda or wanting to do business with people who are interested in building an accepta­ble Middle East,” Ghobash told the Times of London.

Ghobash said the Emirates was aware that some countries have significant business dealings with Qatar, which has more than $50 bil­lion in assets in Britain, but asked: “Do you want Qatari money with blood on it?”

“Investments that Qatar is mak­ing produce returns in your coun­try that go to groups in Libya, in Iraq, in Syria,” he added.

Ghobash said Gulf countries have a wealth of evidence dealing with Qatar’s alleged financing of terror groups but was not releas­ing it publicly so as not to embroil Western governments in possible legal ramifications.

“The criticism is: ‘Where’s the evidence?’ I suggest people won­der why there isn’t more evidence coming out. The implications of that evidence will be very serious,” Ghobash said.

Britain-based Lloyds Bank said it would no longer trade in the Qatari riyal. “This currency is no long­er available for sale or buy-back across our high street banks includ­ing Lloyds Bank, Bank of Scotland and Halifax,” a spokeswoman for the bank said.

The crisis erupted after state­ments attributed to Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani criticising US foreign policy and praising Iran were carried by the official Qatari News Agency. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic ties with Doha on June 5, saying that Qatar contin­ued to interfere in their countries’ internal affairs and supported radi­cal groups such as Hamas, the Tali­ban and the Muslim Brotherhood.

The four countries have given Qatar a list of 13 demands to solve the crisis, which included closing Al Jazeera television, reducing ties with Iran and cutting off links to extremist groups.