Qatari minister cites 'aggression' as Gulf states consider sanctions

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani attends a news conference in Rome, Italy, on July 1, 2017.
Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani attends a news conference in Rome, Italy, on July 1, 2017.

LONDON/CAIRO (REUTERS) - Qatar's Foreign Minister on Wednesday (July 5) accused four Arab neighbours of "clear aggression" against his country as they met in Cairo to weigh further measures against a state they accuse of fostering terrorism in the region.

Mr Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said charges cited by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt in cutting diplomatic and transport links a month ago "were clearly designed to create anti-Qatar sentiment in the west".

"Qatar continues to call for dialogue despite the violation of international laws and regulations, despite the separation of 12,000 families, despite the siege that is a clear aggression and an insult to all international treaties, bodies and jurisdictions," he told a meeting at London's Chatham House think-tank.

The rift between Qatar and its Gulf neighbours has aroused deep concern among Western allies who see the region's ruling dynasties as key partners in energy and defence.

Qatar has invested heavily in infrastructure projects in Western states and maintains close diplomatic collaboration with the United States over the conflict in Syria.

"Reading between the lines, the blockading countries were demanding that we have to surrender our sovereignty to end the siege, something which ... Qatar will never do," he said.

As Mr Sheikh Mohammed spoke, foreign ministers of the four states were meeting in Cairo to consider Qatar's response to 13 demands they have made in return for ending sanctions.

The Arab countries have demanded Qatar curtail its support for the Muslim Brotherhood, shut down the pan-Arab al Jazeera TV channel, close down a Turkish military base and downgrade its ties with regional arch-rival Iran.

The Qatari minister suggested he saw little hope of a rapid reconciliation and that his country was preparing for a more protracted rift.

"What we've done in the last few weeks is develop different alternative for ways to ensure the supply chain for the country not to be cut off."

He looked ahead to the soccer world cup that Qatar does not host until 2022.

"Even if the blockade is lifted, we have to rely on ourselves and ensure we deliver a World Cup that is attractive to the world."

Responding to the accusation that it was now too close to regional rival Iran, he said Doha had to live alongside Teheran since the two states shared a gas field.

Gulf newspapers close to their governments appeared also to see little prospect of any immediate deal.

The editor of the Abu Dhabi government-linked al-Ittihad newspaper wrote that Qatar, with a population of two million compared to Saudi Arabia's 31 million, was "walking alone in its dreams and illusions, far away from its Gulf Arab brothers".

Qatari Officials say the Gulf states' demands are so stiff they suspect they were never seriously meant for negotiation.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, on a tour of Gulf countries, said he was cautiously optimistic the feuding states would reach a solution once they met for talks.

"But it is also possible that it will continue to be difficult for some days," he told reporters in Kuwait, where he met with the Gulf state's ruler who is mediating in the crisis.

Qatar faces possible expulsion from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a regional economic and security cooperation body founded in 1981, if its response to the demands fails to satisfy the Arab states meeting in Cairo.

Qatar's response to the demands has not been made public.

The sanctions have clearly taken a toll. The Qatari minister said shipping costs were now ten times higher as a result.

But Qatar has also made clear that, it is preparing for a more protracted dispute. Doha announced on Tuesday (July 4) it planned to raise Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) production capacity by 30 per cent in the next five years.

Qatar's relatively limited trade ties with other Gulf states - largely food and construction exports - could also soften the effects of extended regional isolation.