Arabs present Qatar with pared-down ‘anti-terrorism’ demands, dropping call to axe Al-Jazeera

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 July, 2017, 1:48pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 July, 2017, 1:48pm

Four Arab nations that cut ties with Qatar urged the tiny Gulf nation Tuesday to commit to six principles on combatting extremism and terrorism and negotiate a plan with specific measures to implement them — moderating the quartet’s stance in a way that could pave the way for an early resolution of the crisis.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain broke diplomatic relations with Qatar in early June largely over their allegations that it supports terrorist and extremist groups — a charge Qatar rejects. They initially made 13 demands, which Qatar dismissed. Among the dropped demands is one demanding the closure of Qatar’s Al-Jazeera TV.

Saudi Arabia’s UN Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi told a briefing for a group of UN correspondents that the four nations are now committed to the six principles agreed to by their foreign ministers at a meeting in Cairo on July 5, and hope Qatar will support them as well.

The principles include commitments to combat extremism and terrorism, prevent financing and safe havens for such groups, and suspend all acts of provocation and speeches inciting hatred or violence.

Al-Mouallimi said the four-nation quartet thinks it “should be easy for the Qataris to accept” the six principles. He stressed that implementation and monitoring must be “essential components,” and “there will be no compromise when it comes to principles.”

But he said both sides can talk about details of “the tactics” and “the tools” to implement them — “and that’s where we can have discussion and compromise.”

The Saudi ambassador explained that the initial 13 points included some principles and some tools to achieve compliance.

Mixed in the 13 points were what Western nations might see as fair demands, such as cracking down on support for extremists and curbing ties with Iran, and tougher-to-swallow calls to shut down the Al-Jazeera television network — one of Qatar’s best-known brands — and kick out troops from Nato member Turkey, which has a base in Qatar.

Al-Mouallimi stressed that stopping incitement to violence is essential, but he said closing Al-Jazeera might not be necessary.

“If the only way to achieve that is by closing down Al-Jazeera, fine,” he said. “If we can achieve that without closing down Al-Jazeera, that’s also fine. The important thing is the objective and the principle involved.”

UAE Minister of State for International Cooperation Reem Al Hashimy said all the countries involved have strong relations with the United States “and we believe that the Americans have a very constructive and a very important role to play in hopefully creating a peaceful resolution to this current crisis.”

President Donald Trump has sided strongly with Saudi Arabia and the UAE in the dispute, publicly backing their contention that Qatar is a supporter of Islamic militant groups and a destabilising force in the Middle East.

Al Hashimy said “at this stage the ball is in Qatar’s court.”

“We’re looking for a serious change in behaviour, serious measures,” she said. “No more talk.”

Al-Mouallimi stressed that Qatar’s future lies with its neighbors not with “faraway places,” a clear reference to Turkey and Iran which are supporting Doha.

“Our Turkish brothers need to recognize that the era of covert and to some extent unwanted intervention in the Arab world has long gone,” he said.