Qatar refuses to bow to Saudi-led bloc's demands

Demands made of Qatar by four other Arab states were designed to be rejected, Doha's foreign minister said on Saturday, explaining that their ultimatum was aimed not at tackling terrorism but at curtailing his country's sovereignty.

It won't comply with demands that threaten sovereignty or violate international law, minister says ahead of deadline

DOHA • Qatar is prepared to let pass the deadline for complying with 13 demands set down by a Saudi-led bloc, including shutting the Al Jazeera television network and cutting back ties with Iran.

The Qatari government, under a blockade led by Saudi Arabia of its air, sea and land links, is unwilling to concede to any demands that threaten its sovereignty or violate international law, Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said.

"There is no fear from our direction. We are ready to face the consequences," he said last Saturday in Rome, where he met his Italian counterpart. "There is an international law that should be respected and not violated," he added.

Qatari stocks declined as the rift showed no sign of easing ahead of a crucial deadline today.

The QE Index, which resumed trading after a one-week public holiday, lost 1.8 per cent as of 9.48am in Doha, led by Industries Qatar QSC's 2.6 per cent loss.

Sheikh Mohammed repeated that Qatar is willing to sit down and negotiate under the right circumstances. The ultimatum issued on June 23 was made to be rejected, he said.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt severed commercial links with Qatar almost a month ago, saying they were isolating the kingdom over what they see as its tolerant attitude to Iran and support for Islamist groups.

The coalition's demands also include Qatar severing relations with the Muslim Brotherhood and ending Turkey's military presence in the country. Qatar was given 10 days to respond.

Sheikh Mohammed, in turn, accused the blockading nations of having ties to groups and individuals accused of terrorism. "As for the countries that accuse Qatar of financing terrorism, they have the same problems as Qatar, more so, they are on top of the list in that area," he said. "There are financial institutions in these countries involved in financing terrorist organisations and financing terrorist operations in Western countries."

The coalition presented Qatar with its requirements to end the stand-off after United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged the Saudi-led bloc to lay out its demands. In a statement on June 25, Mr Tillerson conceded that Qatar would find it "very difficult" to comply with some of the requests.

On June 27, during a visit to Washington, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir called the demands non-negotiable.

The UAE Ambassador to Russia Omar Ghobash has said Qatar could face fresh sanctions if it does not comply with the demands. Gulf states could ask their trading partners to choose between working with them or with Doha, he said in a newspaper interview last week.

They have not specified what further sanctions they could impose on Doha, but commercial bankers in the region believe Saudi, Emirati and Bahraini banks might receive official guidance to pull deposits and interbank loans from Qatar.

A more serious sanction would be to ban investors from holding Qatari assets, but the authorities have given no sign of doing this.

UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash played down the chances of an escalation, saying that "the alternative is not escalation but parting ways", suggesting Qatar may be forced out of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

The Western-backed body was formed in 1981 in the wake of Iran's Islamic Revolution and the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war, by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain.

In Washington last week, the Qatari Foreign Minister said the GCC was set up to guard against external threats.

"When the threat is coming from inside the GCC, there is a suspicion about the sustainability of the organisation," Sheikh Mohammed told reporters.

Qataris appeared defiant yesterday, with newspapers decrying a "siege" and sharing on social media a cartoon of David and Goliath to illustrate Qatar's struggle with its larger neighbours.

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 03, 2017, with the headline 'Qatar refuses to bow to Saudi-led bloc's demands'. Print Edition | Subscribe