Saudi Arabia prepares to meet with allies after Qatar dismisses ‘unrealistic’ demands
Foreign ministers from the four countries that broke off diplomatic and trade relations with Qatar are due to meet in Cairo on Wednesday
Saudi Arabia and Arab allies that have cut ties with Qatar began talks in Egypt on Wednesday on the Gulf diplomatic crisis, after Doha said their demands were impossible to meet.
The four Arab nations, which also include the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, accuse Qatar of supporting extremism, a charge which it denies.
They gave the isolated emirate an extra 48 hours to meet their ultimatum after an initial 10-day deadline passed on Sunday.
Saudi Arabia said early on Wednesday that the four had received Qatar’s response and that they would respond “at the right time”.
Regional newspapers with links to their governments suggested the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain might be ill-inclined to accept Qatar’s response to their demands when they meet in Egypt.
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”.
Meanwhile, Qatar’s foreign minister called for “dialogue” on to resolve the Gulf diplomatic crisis, accusing the Arab states that cut ties of trying to undermine the nation’s sovereignty.
“Qatar continues to call for dialogue,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani told the Chatham House think tank.
“We welcome any serious efforts to resolve our differences with our neighbours,” he said. “We don’t accept intervention in our own affairs”.
He accused Saudi Arabia and its allies of “demanding that we must surrender our sovereignty as the price for ending the siege”. Sheikh Mohammed on Monday handed an official response to the demands to Kuwait, which is mediating in the dispute, but its contents have not been disclosed.
On Tuesday, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani received a written reply from Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, according to the official Qatar News Agency.
Riyadh and its supporters have severed air, sea and ground links with Qatar, cutting off vital routes for imports including food.
The Arab group have also ordered all Qatari citizens to leave their territories and taken various steps against Qatari firms and financial institutions.
The group also issued a list of demands, which included Doha ending support for the Muslim Brotherhood, closing broadcaster Al-Jazeera, downgrading diplomatic ties with Iran and shutting down a Turkish military base in the emirate.
Doha has said it will not bow to pressure and that the demands seem designed to be rejected.
Sheikh Mohammed said the demands are “unrealistic and is not actionable”.
“It’s not about terrorism, it’s talking about shutting down the freedom of speech,” he said.
“The state of Qatar has adopted a very constructive attitude since the beginning of the crisis,” Sheikh Mohammed said. “We are trying to act mature and discuss the matter.”
The four countries have suggested further sanctions could be imposed if Doha does not comply, and have also accused Qatar of being too close to their regional arch-rival Iran.
The crisis has raised concerns of growing instability in the region, home to some of the world’s largest energy exporters and key Western allies who host US military bases.
Qatar’s gas riches have transformed it in recent years into one of the world’s wealthiest countries, a major international investor and a regional player that will host the 2022 soccer world cup.
Qatar has also pursued a more independent foreign policy than many of its neighbours, who tend to follow the lead of regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia.
UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan also said on Tuesday it was “premature” to discuss what further action the group might take against Qatar.
Any measures that are taken will be “within the framework of international law”, Sheikh Abdullah said. “Any independent state has the right to take measures against any party,” he added, urging Doha to listen to “the voice of reason and wisdom”.
Additional reporting by Reuters