Saudi Arabia and allies hold on to demands in Qatar dispute
LONDON - Despite the Qatari flag raised in the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia because of Doha’s participation in the Arab League summit, Saudi officials stressed that the dispute with Qatar was not on the table for discussion.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said the ten-month conflict with fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member Qatar was not on the meeting’s agenda. He said: “The solution of Qatar will be within the GCC.”
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed ties with Doha after accusing it of financing extremist groups and interfering in their sovereign affairs, allegations Qatar denies. International efforts to mediate a solution have yielded no results and foreign ministers of the Arab Quartet reaffirmed their demands of Doha ahead of the Arab League summit.
The quartet stressed its “firm position on the necessity of Qatar’s fulfilling the list of 13 demands that have been put forward and their adherence to the Six Principles of Cairo Meeting and Manama Declaration as a necessary foundation for establishing normal relations with them,” a statement on the official Saudi press agency said.
This unwavering stance comes after US President Donald Trump gave a positive assessment of the crisis after an April 10 meeting with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani at the White House.
“We’re working on unity in that part of the Middle East and I think it’s working out very well,” Trump said after his meeting with Sheikh Tamim.
Trump initially commended the Arab Quartet for its stance against Doha. As the crisis dragged on, however, efforts by his administration, particularly former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, to resolve the issue only saw both sides of the dispute digging in their heels.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz told Egyptian media last month that the dispute with Qatar was like that of the 60-year US embargo of Cuba. He also dismissed Qatar as “smaller than a Cairo street.”
There have been reports that Saudi Arabia is looking into creating a maritime canal along its border with Qatar, in effect turning the tiny Gulf state into an island.
News reports indicate that the Salwa Marine Canal project would turn part of the kingdom’s border with Qatar into a military base and another area would be a dumping site for waste from a nuclear power plant to be built there.
The news site Sabq reported that the project would cost approximately $750 million, take 12 months to complete and would utilise Egyptian firms involved in maintaining the Suez Canal.
Saudi authorities have not confirmed or denied the reports. UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash, in a posting on Twitter, said Qatar’s muted response on the proposed canal project highlighted its “fear and confusion” and was evidence of its “failure to manage and resolve its crisis.”
Among the demands by the Arab Quartet was that Doha scale back its relations with Iran, which Riyadh and its allies have called out over Tehran’s alleged interference in regional affairs, through proxies such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthi militia in Yemen.
Analysts said that Iran will factor heavily in the Saudi-hosted summit.
“The Saudis are going to push for a much harsher stance on Iran, not necessarily on the nuclear dossier per se, but on Iranian influence in the Arab countries, particularly Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen,” Karim Bitar of the Institute of International and Strategic Affairs in Paris told the Associated Press.
Foreign ministers for the Arab Quartet met ahead of the summit on Iran’s interference in the internal affairs of Arab countries. Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit attended the meeting.
An official statement said the meeting reviewed the development of the crisis with Iran and ways of standing up to Tehran’s meddling in the domestic affairs of Arab countries.