Other punitive measures are being discussed, Emirati diplomat says, dismissing press freedom concerns over demands to close Al Jazeera
A diplomat from the United Arab Emirates has turned up the pressure on Qatar, claiming the bloc is considering fresh sanctions to further isolate the kingdom from its Gulf neighbours.
The bloc could even go so far as to ask trading partners to choose between maintaining links with them or the tiny energy-rich state, the UAE’s ambassador to Russia said in an interview published in the Guardian on Wednesday.
“There are certain economic sanctions that we can take which are being considered right now,” Omar Ghobash told the newspaper in an 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.
Qatar has been plunged into a diplomatic crisis since Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt severed all ties earlier this month over the country’s alleged ties to terrorism, sending the stock market plummeting and panicked citizens to supermarkets where they emptied shelves of food.
Families have been split up and myriad businesses affected by demands for Qatari nationals to leave the countries involved, and vice versa.
Qatar has denied the allegations against it. Its rulers have so far surprised Riyadh and its allies by refusing to give into the bloc’s lengthy demands, which include shunning Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood and shuttering Qatari owned news outlet Al Jazeera, in order for air, land and sea links to be restored.
If Qatar “was not willing to accept the demands, it is a case of ‘Goodbye Qatar’, we do not need you in our tent any more,” Mr Ghobash added.
The UN’s special rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion, David Kaye, said on Wednesday it would be a “major blow against media pluralism” for Al Jazeera to close, particularly in a region that is “already suffering from severe restrictions on reporting and media.”
In the interview with the Guardian, however, Mr Ghobash dismissed the concerns.
“We do not claim to have press freedom. We do not promote the idea of press freedom. What we talk about is responsibility in speech,” the diplomat said.
“Freedom of speech has different constraints in different places. Speech in our part of the world has a particular context, and that context can go from peaceful to violent in no time simply because of words that are spoken.”
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir echoed the hardline stance on Twitter, posting “It’s up to the Qataris to amend their behaviour and once they do, things will be worked out but if they don’t they will remain isolated.”
“Our demands on Qatar are non-negotiable. It’s now up to Qatar to end its support for extremism and terrorism,” he added.
Elsewhere on Wednesday, eyebrows were raised in the Gulf after New York’s Empire State Building was lit up in Qatar’s burgundy and white colours on Tuesday evening.
The landmark was illuminated in the kingdom’s national colours to mark 10 years of state carrier Qatar Airways flights to the US.
Last year, Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund bought a 9.9 per cent stake in the company that owns the Empire State Building for a total of $622 million (£480 million).