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'Core issue: Qatar's support for terror'

August 20, 2017 09:49 IST

'Qatar has been funding and supporting terrorist organisations.'
'It has used its media to spread lies and create unrest in neighbouring countries.'

Saudi Arabia's Ambassador to India Saud Mohammed Alsati, tells Aditi Phadnis that his country along with three others cut diplomatic and consular ties with Qatar because it reneged on its past commitments and assurances and continued to shelter extremist and terror groups.

Last month a group of four countries led by Saudi Arabia issued a list of 13 demands to Qatar, which included severing ties with Iran, outlawing the Muslim Brotherhood and closing down Al Jazeeran, and warned... or else.
Qatar did not comply. Now what?

It is important to understand why the four countries -- Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain -- took the step of cutting diplomatic and consular ties with Qatar.

 

We have been engaging with Qatar since 2012 and before to persuade them to stop their support for extremist and terrorist groups that are destabilising the security of other Gulf Cooperation Council countries.

The Qatari government signed agreements to this effect in 2013 and 2014.

Despite these assurances, Qatar has been supporting terrorist groups and meddling in the internal affairs of our country.

As a result of this, our country decided to boycott Qatar in the interests of our national security and to persuade Qatar to abandon its divisive agenda.

The 13 demands submitted to the Qatar government were to fulfil their previous pledges and commitments that were originally stated in the agreements that Qatar signed in 2013 and 2014.

The demands were fully in line with the spirit of what Qatar had agreed upon earlier.

Qatar's response was disappointing. Hence, the political and economic measures will continue until Qatar changes its policies for the better.

Let me emphasise that we are not against the people of Qatar.

Our disappointment is with the behaviour of Qatar's authorities.

I am sure all of us in the GCC wish to restore the ties that our countries have shared in the past, but Qatar's government must end its violations and support for extremism and terrorism for that to happen.

Some of your current allies -- the UAE, for instance -- have also done business with Iran and its banking industry thrived on this business.
So Qatar is not the only nation in the region that has ties with Iran.
Is the real reason for the tension the South Pars, which Qatar and Iran are developing together and once developed, it would be the largest gas field in the world?

The cutting of ties with Qatar cannot be linked to a recent development such as South Pars, as you mentioned.

I emphasise that the core issue is Qatar's support for terrorism and creating unrest.

Please do note that the decision to cut ties with Qatar has been a collective one; it is not just Saudi Arabia, but also the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt that have done the same.

Hence, this highlights the degree of discontent that Qatar has caused due to the violations it has been perpetrating for the last two decades.

We consider Iran a State that sponsors terrorism.

Given Iran's past designs, it is no surprise that it is trying to get closer to Qatar to create further disruption in the region.

The US is supporting Kuwait's mediation and if that fails, has itself offered to mediate.
Is that what Saudi Arabia wants -- the entry of another foreign power in a region already beset with pressures from foreign powers?

We highly appreciate and thank the emir of Kuwait for his efforts and good offices to resolve the crisis with the Qatar government.

Unfortunately, the Qatari government has so far thwarted all efforts and diplomatic good offices to resolve the crisis.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited the Gulf countries for talks. Let us hope that a positive outcome does come out of this.

Our foreign minister, Adel Al-Jubeir, also had a fruitful meeting with Tillerson on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg in which they discussed the Qatar crisis, Iranian interventions in the region and the fight against terrorism.

International treaties and commerce prevent sanctioning Qatar from shipping lanes. Most ports are still doing business with Qatar, barring Egyptian ports.
So many would argue there are limits to what Saudi Arabia and its allies can do.
Qatar says it is too rich to worry about what Saudi Arabia thinks, and that their financial resources would provide the resources necessary to weather the sanctions.
What do you think?

I'd like to reiterate that there is no blockade against Qatar as is being wrongly reported in a section of the media.

Their ports are open, their airports are open.

The ban on the use of Saudi airspace is only limited to Qatari airways or Qatar-owned aircraft, not any other country.

Qatar can move goods in and out whenever they want. They just cannot use our territorial waters or our airspace.

As a sovereign country, these are steps we had to take to safeguard our own security.

I would also like to state here, that whatever steps have been taken, they are under the auspices of international law.

As our foreign minister, Al-Jubeir, has said earlier, the measures taken against Qatar are not aimed at harming it, but instead to help it to adopt the right path.

Despite the boycott, Qataris can visit Saudi Arabia to perform the Umrah.

A hotline has also been set up for families of Qataris and Saudi Arabians to help them deal with any difficulties.

Even friends like Pakistan have not supported Riyadh when it comes to Yemeni rebels or curtailing ties with Iran. So why pick on Qatar?

Regarding Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition of 10 countries intervened in Yemen in response to an appeal by the legitimate Yemen president, Abdullah bin Mansour Hadi, to protect his internationally recognised government, his country's stability and its people from Houthi militias, who are attacking government institutions and targeting civilians with support from Iran.

The Houthis have also been launching unprovoked attacks on Saudi Arabia since the past few years.

As far as Iran is concerned, it is the leading State that sponsors terrorism and this fact was further affirmed at the Riyadh summit in May 2017, which was attended by leaders of 55 Arab and Muslim countries as well as the president of the United States.

Qatar also attended the anti-terror summit in Riyadh, but afterwards took positions contrary to the summit declaration.

Qatar has been funding and supporting terrorist organisations including the Houthis, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood.

It has used its media to spread lies and create unrest in neighbouring countries.

As a sovereign country, we had to take these steps for safeguarding our own national security and in the interest of stability in the region.

Our decision regarding severing our diplomatic and consular ties with Qatar came, as I pointed out earlier, after many years of patience and engagement.

The kingdom and other countries have provided Qatar with a list of individuals involved in terror activities targeting the kingdom and its citizens.

Qatar signed an agreement that stated that it would not support or shelter elements or groups that threaten the security of countries.

To reiterate my earlier point, Qatar didn't respect its commitments and assurances and continued to shelter extremist and terrorist groups that have been targeting the security and stability of the kingdom.

IMAGE: Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz, centre, with Qatar's Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani in Riyadh, November 10, 2015. Photograph: Faisal Al Nasser/Reuters

Aditi Phadnis
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