Kuwaiti emir flies to Doha as Donald Trump also intervenes for second time in Gulf diplomatic crisis
Kuwait has stepped up its efforts to mediate an end to the economic and diplomatic blockade of Qatar as other Gulf States set out more detailed demands for how Qatar should end its alleged funding and harbouring of terrorism.
Kuwait’s Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah flew to Qatar on Wednesday night and was met at the airport by Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. The Qatari foreign ministry said they held talks on how to “restore the normal relations” of the Gulf.
The US president, Donald Trump, also rang the Qatari emir suggesting he come to the US to discuss a resolution to the worst diplomatic crisis to hit the Gulf in 30 years.
In his second intervention in the row in as many days, Trump urged action against terrorism, a White House statement said. “The president offered to help the parties resolve their differences, including through a meeting at the White House if necessary,” it said.
Trump, in a later call with Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan, called for unity among Gulf Arabs “but never at the expense of eliminating funding for radical extremism or defeating terrorism”, the White House said.
Speaking on BBC radio, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) ambassador to Moscow, Omar Saif Ghobash, said the blockade would only be lifted when Qatar ended the harbouring of terrorists, including the Muslim Brotherhood and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas. He demanded that the Qatar-funded broadcaster al-Jazeera “change completely so it no longer acts as a mouthpiece for terrorists”.
Qatar insists it does not fund extremism and says the presence of leading figures from Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood in the capital, Doha, is in part an effort to achieve peace in the Middle East.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Qatar’s foreign minister said its fellow Arab states’ move to isolate it was endangering stability in the region. “We are not ready to surrender, and will never be ready to surrender, the independence of our foreign policy,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said. “We have been isolated because we are successful and progressive. We are a platform for peace not terrorism … This dispute is threatening the stability of the entire region.”
The statements came as Qatar’s flagship broadcaster, the pan-Arab satellite network Al-Jazeera, announced on Twitter that it was combatting a large-scale cyber attack across “all systems”.
“There were attempts made on the cyber security of Al-Jazeera but we are combatting them and currently all our entities are operational,” said a senior employee who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Hours later, Qatar’s state-run television also announced that it had shut down its website temporarily “for security reasons” after hacking attempts, it said on its Twitter feed.
Qatar is a critical player in the Middle East as the largest exporter of liquid gas, the host to the largest US military base in the region and the venue for the 2022 Fifa World Cup.
A group of Gulf States led by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, and also Egypt, have placed a stranglehold over the Qatar economy by isolating the country by land, sea and air. The UAE took a further step on Thursday by refusing to send on post to Qatar.
Turkey and Iran have offered to come to Qatar’s aid. The Qatar flag carrier is now having to fly over Iran and Turkey to keep the airlines running.
Ghobash, regarded as one of the chief thinkers on moderate Islam, said on the BBC that the UAE regarded the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation and a source of extremist ideas used by al-Qaida. He said Qatar had “instrumentalised extremism that will ultimately bring us all down … They are funding and they are directing an incredibly destructive policy that makes no sense for the Qataris and the region. Political extremism and political Islam will not create the economies we need in the Middle East”.
He added it was very difficult to discern the Qataris’ logic, but suggested they thought they were betting on the winning horse. Qatar had to decide whether “it wished to be a Gulf State or instead in the pocket of Turkey, Iran and Islamic extremists”.
He said the UAE possessed all kinds of recordings showing Qatar provided millions of dollars to terrorist groups such as al-Qaida.
The UAE has insisted it is not seeking regime change in Qatar, but its attacks are increasingly focused on the emir personally.
On Thursday, the UAE minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, accused Qatar of escalating the row by seeking help from Turkey and Iran. “The request for political protection from two non-Arab countries and military protection from one of them could be a new tragic and comic chapter,” Gargash wrote on Twitter.
Qatar denies the claims and says it is the victim of a coordinated effort to demolish an independent foreign policy that tries to mediate in the Middle East, including reconciling different Palestinian factions.
King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain, who is currently in Saudi Arabia, said on Wednesday that Manama had always chosen to be on the side of Riyadh to protect its country against Qatari and Iranian interference.
The king said he was in Saudi Arabia not only to discuss developments in the region, but also “to renew our appreciation for the support we receive in Bahrain to protect its security and stability in light of the Qatari and Iranian interference”.
He said interference coming from Qatar and Iran “extend several centuries”.