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Middle East

Qatar accuses Saudi Arabia of forcing it to surrender sovereignty

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Patrick Wintour

Qatar’s neighbours have described its response to a list of demands as not serious and said they will continue their blockade of the tiny, wealthy emirate, as the bitter diplomatic row in the Gulf saw no sign of abating.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain cut off ties with Qatar on 5 June, accusing it of supporting terrorism. On 22 June they issued a 13-point list of demands – including ending support for the Muslim Brotherhood and closing broadcaster al-Jazeera – to end the standoff and gave Qatar 10 days to comply.

That deadline was extended by 48 hours on Sunday, when Qatar sent a letter to Kuwaiti mediators effectively refusing to engage with the demands.

Speaking after a meeting in Cairo on Wednesday of the foreign ministers from the four blockading nations, Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry said Qatar’s response “was overall negative and lacked any content”.

Qatar lacked “understanding of the seriousness and gravity of the situation”, Shoukry said, reading from a joint statement.

Existing sanctions, including a land and air blockade, would remain in place, the statement said, and further measures would be taken at the appropriate time.
However, the Saudi-led coalition held back from an immediate escalation of the dispute by declining to impose extra sanctions or expel Qatar from the six-member Gulf cooperation council.

Some Gulf diplomats had spoken of disinvestment from Qatar, or sanctions on pro-Qatar third parties.

The decision not to respond immediately with fresh measures may reflect pressure from western capitals to ease the dispute, and the effectiveness of Qatar’s campaign to present itself as an innocent victim of an attempt to meddle with its foreign policy.

In perhaps a decisive intervention, Donald Trump spoke with the Egyptian president Abdel Fattah Al Sisi on Wednesday, “urging all parties to negotiate constructively to resolve the dispute”.

According to the White House, the US president “reiterated the need for all countries to follow through on their commitments at the Riyadh summit to stop terrorist financing and discredit extremist ideology”. The tone was more balanced than Trump’s previous statements, which had offered unbridled support for the Saudis.

The US has more than 10,000 troops stationed in Qatar, and can ill afford a military conflict between its Gulf allies, as it seeks to build unity against Iran.

Many western capitals have been warning Saudi not to push the dispute to a level that ends up with Qatar forced into the hands of Iran.

The Cairo decision leaves the dispute frozen, with Qatar insisting it can survive the boycott, but increasingly dependent on Iran and Turkey for military and economic support. The political and economic boycott will continue until Qatar changes its policies for the better, Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir said at a news conference.

Saudi Arabia insisted any measures it takes will be in compliance with international law, an issue that may come more important if the dispute ends up being referred to the UN security council. The Saudi-led states say they are mounting a boycott, and not a blockade, arguing Qatar’s planes can fly out of Doha to the East, and still reach destinations such as London.

Earlier on Wednesday the Qatar foreign minister insisted his country will not accept any plan that breaches international law or interferes with its sovereignty.

Speaking at Chatham House in London, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani accused Saudi Arabia and its allies of “demanding that we must surrender our sovereignty as the price for ending the siege”.

His country was prepared for a long battle, he said, adding: “What we’ve done in the last few weeks is develop different alternative for ways to ensure the supply chain for the country not to be cut off.”

“Even if the blockade is lifted, we have to rely on ourselves and ensure we deliver a World Cup that is attractive to the world,” he said. Qatar is due to host the World Cup in 2022.

Responding to accusations that it was now too close to Saudi Arabia’s regional rival Iran, he said Doha had to live alongside Tehran since the two states shared a gas field.

He also insisted the other Gulf states had no powers to eject Qatar from the Gulf Co-operation Council, a trade and security bloc, arguing decisions can only be taken by the GCC by consensus, implying Kuwait and Oman would not endorse the punishment.

Al-Thani described the Saudi demands as “not reasonable or actionable”, adding “the blockade was extraordinary, unprovoked and hostile”.

Presenting Qatar as a modern state open to dialogue, compared with the neighbouring regimes, he said: “We believe that this entire campaign is merely driven by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and these are the countries that we need to engage to find out what are the real problems and what are the real grievances.”

The demand, he said, would mean “Qatar was asked to curtail free expression, hand individual people over to torture, reduce its defence capabilities, go against international law, outsource its foreign policy to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, literally sign an open cheque to the blockading countries to pay an unlimited amount of money described as compensation”.

He continued: “The ultimatum did not only demand the shutting down of Al Jazeera, but outlets based here in the UK that provide a free press for the people of the Middle East.

“Reading between the lines the blockading countries were demanding we must end our sovereignty as the price for the ending of the siege something they knew Qatar would never do.”

Middle East

Is Qatar taking advantage of Somalia – UAE dispute?

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As Somalia seeks to ease tensions with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar which is seen to be at the center of the fallout of the two nations, has donated 30 buses and two cranes to Mogadishu regional officials.

Relations between UAE and Somalia have been steadily declining since the latter’s decision not to cut ties with Qatar, preferring to take a neutral position in the dispute between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

In March, Somalia banned UAE’s DP World from doing business in the country after it nullified an agreement the company had entered into with Ethiopia and Somaliland for the management of Berbera port.

Diplomatic row

One week ago, Somalia intercepted a plane chartered by UAE diplomats and confiscated $9.6m cash, saying it would investigate the intended purpose of the funds.

UAE retaliated with a scathing statement describing the seizure of the money as a breach of diplomatic protocols.

Both countries have separately issued statements ending a military cooperation program that was started in 2014, where UAE was training and paying some members of the Somali army.

Voice of America (VOA) journalist, Harun Maruf also reported that the UAE-run Sheikh Zayed hospital in Mogadishu had suspended its operations until further notice.

On Monday, it was reported that another UAE plane had been prevented from leaving Bosaso airport by Somali officials after Emirati military trainers refused to hand over their luggage to be scanned and searched.

Reconciliation talks
VOA has also reported that the Somali government on Monday opened conciliatory talks with UAE leaders.

Somali Foreign Minister Ahmed Isse Awad is quoted to have said that ‘talks have begun between the top leadership from the two countries and are progressing well.’

According to the minister, UAE had explained the purpose of the funds and will work with federal government of Somalia on their utilisation.

Mohamed Moalimuu, Secretary General of National Union of Somali Journalists, tweeted on Tuesday evening that the country’s legislators had been summoned to return to duty, supposedly to discuss the UAE dispute.

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Briefing Room

Diplomatic leaks: UAE dissatisfied with Saudi policies

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AL JAZEERA — Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ) is working on breaking up Saudi Arabia, leaked documents obtained by Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar revealed.

Al Akhbar said that the leaked documents contained secret diplomatic briefings sent by UAE and Jordanian ambassadors in Beirut to their respective governments.

One of the documents, issued on September 20, 2017, disclosed the outcome of a meeting between Jordan’s ambassador to Lebanon Nabil Masarwa and his Kuwaiti counterpart Abdel-Al al-Qenaie.

“The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed is working on breaking up the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the Jordanian envoy quoted the Kuwait ambassador as saying.

A second document, issued on September 28, 2017, reveals meeting minutes between the Jordanian ambassador and his UAE counterpart Hamad bin Saeed al-Shamsi.

The document said the Jordanian ambassador informed his government that UAE believes that “Saudi policies are failing both domestically and abroad, especially in Lebanon”.

“The UAE is dissatisfied with Saudi policies,” the Jordanian envoy said.

The Qatar vote
According to the leaks, UAE ambassador claims that Lebanon voted for Qatar’s Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari in his bid to become head of UNESCO in October 2017.

“[Lebanese Prime Minister Saad] Hariri knew Lebanon was voting for Qatar,” the UAE ambassador said in a cable sent to his government on October 18, 2017.

In November last year, Hariri announced his shock resignation from the Saudi capital Riyadh.

He later deferred his decision, blaming Iran and its Lebanese ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah, for his initial resignation. He also said he feared an assassination attempt.

Officials in Lebanon alleged that Hariri was held hostage by Saudi authorities, an allegation Hariri denied in his first public statement following his resignation speech.

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Middle East

Saudi billionaire Alwaleed to walk free ‘within days’

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AL JAZEERA — Prominent Saudi businessman Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, says he expects to soon be released after two months of detention on allegations of corruption.

Prince Alwaleed, who was arrested among dozens of other royal family members, ministers, and top businessmen, said in an exclusive interview with Reuters news agency on Saturday that he expected to be cleared of charges and released from custody within the next few days.

“There are no charges. There are just some discussions between me and the government,” the 62-year-old said.

“I believe we are on the verge of finishing everything within days.”

He and his counterparts were arrested in early November during the kingdom’s “anti-corruption purge”, and were held collectively in the country’s Ritz Carton hotel.

In his interview, Prince Alwaleed said he was continuing to maintain his innocence of any corruption in talks with authorities. He also said he expected to remain in full control of his global investment firm, without being required to give up assets to the government.
During a previous interview with Reuters, a Saudi official said charges against the billionaire prince included money laundering, bribery and extorting of officials.

Also speaking to officials in the kingdom, the Reuters news agency said Saudi authorities were asking detainees to hand over assets and cash in return for their freedom.

The deals involve separating cash from assets, such as property and shares, and looking at bank accounts to assess cash values, one source told Reuters.

Prince Alwaleed appeared frail in comparison to his last public appearance in a televised interview last October, but confirmed that he was being treated well, dismissing rumors that had said otherwise.

Showing off his private office, dining room and kitchen in his hotel suite, Prince Alwaleed said he agreed to the interview mainly to prove that such rumours were false.

The release of Prince Alwaleed, whose net worth has been estimated by Forbes magazine at $17bn, may reassure investors in his business empire. Directly or indirectly through his firm, Kingdom Holding, he holds stakes in companies such as Twitter Inc and Citigroup Inc,

He has also invested in top hotels around the world, including the George V in Paris and the Plaza in New York City.

Saudi authorities said they aimed to reach financial settlements with most suspects and believed they could raise some $100bn for the government this way.

In recent days, there have been signs the purge is winding down; several other prominent businessmen, including Waleed al-Ibrahim, owner of regional television network MBC, have reached financial settlements with authorities, an official source told Reuters on Friday, though terms were not revealed.

Prince Alwaleed said his own case was taking longer to conclude because he was determined to clear his name completely, but he believed the case was now 95 percent complete.

“There’s a misunderstanding, and it’s being cleared. So I’d like to stay here until this thing is over completely and get out and life goes on,” he said, adding that he plans to live in the kingdom after his release.

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