Gulf states mulling over fresh sanctions on Qatar

They could ask trading partners to choose between them and Doha, says UAE envoy

DUBAI • Gulf Arab states are considering fresh sanctions on Qatar and could ask their trading partners to choose between working with them or Doha, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) ambassador to Russia has said.

In an interview with The Guardian newspaper, Mr Omar Ghobash also demanded that Qatar ends its independent-minded foreign policy.

The UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain severed diplomatic and travel ties with Qatar this month, accusing it of funding hardline Islamist militant groups in the region, a charge Doha denies.

They closed their airspace to Qatari carriers and blocked the emirate's only land border, a vital route for its food imports. They also ordered all Qataris to leave and their own nationals to return home.

"There are certain economic sanctions that we can take which are being considered right now," Mr Ghobash said in the interview in London.

"One possibility would be to impose conditions on our own trading partners and say you want to work with us then you have got to make a commercial choice," he said.

He said the expulsion of Qatar from the Gulf Cooperation Council was "not the only sanction available".

Last Friday, Riyadh laid down a list of 13 demands for Qatar, including ending Doha's support for the Muslim Brotherhood, the closure of Al Jazeera television, a downgrade of diplomatic ties with Iran and the shutdown of a Turkish military base in the emirate. Qatar was given 10 days - or until next Monday - to respond.

Qatar has since condemned Saudi Arabia's refusal to negotiate the demands for ending the crippling embargo on the emirate.

"This list of demands confirms what Qatar has said from the beginning - the illegal blockade has nothing to do with combating terrorism, it is about limiting Qatar's sovereignty and outsourcing our foreign policy," Mr Sheikh Saif Al-Thani, director of Qatar's government communications office, said last week.

Speaking from Washington, where he held talks with United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said the Saudi position was unacceptable.

"This is contrary to the principles that govern international relations because you can't just present lists of demands and refuse to negotiate," Mr Sheikh Mohammed said in comments published in Doha.

His Saudi counterpart Adel Al-Jubeir, who is also in Washington, did not budge on Tuesday over the three-week-old dispute, which has left Qatar, a US ally, isolated under a trade and diplomatic embargo.

The rift between the US allies has been a blow to Washington just as its campaign against terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria comes to a climax in Iraq and Syria.

Mr Tillerson, who has held meetings with both sides, described the demands as "very difficult" for Qatar to comply with.

Qatar has denied supporting terrorism, saying the dispute is really about the Saudis seeking dominance over their neighbours and that the bloc's action amounts to an illegal siege.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2017, with the headline 'Gulf states mulling over fresh sanctions on Qatar'. Print Edition | Subscribe