H.E. Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani
Minister of Foreign Affairs
State of Qatar
Khalil E. Jahshan
Arab Center Washington DC
On June 29, 2017, Arab Center Washington (ACW) welcomed H.E. Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the State of Qatar, for a major address in Washington, DC. The speech was titled “Resolving the Gulf Crisis: Challenges and Prospects.” Sheikh Mishal bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Ambassador of the State of Qatar to the United States, was also present.
Khalil Jahshan, Executive Director of ACW, introduced H.E. Sheikh Mohammed, who is on a visit to the United States to meet officials in the executive and legislative branches of the US government, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Jahshan noted that it has been an “eventful four weeks” since the beginning of the crisis in the Gulf, on June 5, when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt cut diplomatic and trade relations with Qatar and closed their borders and air space with the country. On June 23, these countries presented a list of 13 demands to the Qataris.
H.E. Sheikh Mohammed opened his speech by characterizing Qatar as marking out “a unique path for itself among Arab states, spearheading efforts for the non-violent resolution of regional and global conflicts.” It has brokered dialogue between the regime in Sudan and the armed groups in Darfur as well as major camps in Lebanon. Qatar’s willingness to play a mediation role, he said, has helped further international dialogue; moreover, Qatar sees itself as “a humanitarian partner seeking to replace weapons with pens, desperation with hope.”
The foreign minister said that he had an important meeting on June 27 with Secretary Tillerson during which they discussed prospects for a political solution to the current conflict. He described the meeting as “excellent and constructive.” He continued: “We have stated consistently and unequivocally that Qatar is willing to sit down with our neighbors to discuss all issues pertaining to regional security and stability, so long as these demands do not infringe upon our independence and national sovereignty.”
Since the severing of diplomatic ties and the “unilateral measures” taken against Doha, he noted, 12,000 cases of human rights violations were filed and thousands of family members and friends were separated from each other, while journalists and others were “silenced through arbitrary measures.”
The foreign minister explained that the FBI had proved that the state-owned Qatar News Agency was hacked on May 24 and that fabricated statements were disseminated about Qatar’s relations with Iran, Israel, Hamas, and the United States. Subsequently, on June 5, the four Arab countries broke relations and began the blockade. He said that the Qataris were shocked by these measures and the ensuing hostile actions, which were based on unsubstantiated claims and lack of evidence. The foreign minister described the sequence of events in the crisis as follows: “First the false news, then the allegations, then a list of ‘grievances’ and finally an ultimatum.”
As a founding member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), H.E. Sheikh Mohammed stressed that Qatar has been committed to the GCC’s charter and policies and has defended its interests. He pointed to Qatar’s role in the liberation of Kuwait and in protecting Saudi Arabia’s border in the war against Yemen as evidence.
In terms of combating global terrorism, he said that this challenge is not unique to Qatar, which attempts to counter it through bilateral and multilateral cooperation. “As a member of the Middle East North Africa Financial Action Task Force, Qatar has taken significant and substantive steps to prevent the transfer of funds through domestic or foreign charities to any organization named on the United Nations’ lists of designated terrorist organizations.” He said that Qatar implements its Countering Violent Extremism strategy using a development-based approach—examples include rebuilding Gaza and Darfur, supporting education for millions of children in 42 countries in such places as Pakistan, Afghanistan, and among Syrian refugees, and providing employment opportunities for youth in Tunisia and Egypt.
Regarding the list of demands leveled at Qatar, the foreign minister said: “The response of Qatar has been purposely measured yet unequivocal: we are willing to negotiate any legitimate grievances with our neighbors, but we will not compromise our national sovereignty.” Even Secretary of State Tillerson, he said, stated the demands will be hard to meet. “This ultimatum … is not a list of demands or requests, but a clear effort to undermine our foreign policy and national sovereignty,” he added. He said he stressed to Secretary Tillerson that “suggestions by certain parties that their demands are ‘non-negotiable’” are not helpful in resolving this crisis. Tillerson had said a week earlier that these demands must be “actionable and reasonable.”
H.E. Sheikh Mohammed described the GCC as “the last source of stability in the region … The siege is a clear act of aggression on state sovereignty and a serious violation of international laws and regulation.”
In response to questions from the audience, the foreign minister offered additional points:
- Qatar is working with different parts of the US government, particularly the Departments of State, Defense, and Treasury. Information from these agencies will deepen President Trump’s understanding that Qatar is not aiding terrorists.
- The relationship between Doha and Washington is strong. The al-Udeid Air Base is “not a bargaining chip” but part of a longstanding alliance between the two countries. The 11,000 US military personnel at the base are there to serve the region. The US role in mediating the current crisis is important to arriving at a political solution. He urged the United States to continue playing this role.
- Al Jazeera’s independence in the region is vital. It plays a key role as a source of information for millions of viewers, which the Arab public values.
- Qatar will not respond to the list of demands presented by the four Arab countries. Doing so gives the demands validity and sets a bad precedent for relations among sovereign countries in the Gulf. Qatar is pursuing a legal course of action, since it perceives the demands and blockade against it as illegal.
- Turkey has been supportive of Qatar since the beginning of the crisis. The two countries have always had a strong relationship, but this does not negate Turkey’s relations with other GCC countries.
- Qatar is not the only GCC country that has cordial relations with Iran. The GCC itself had taken a decision to engage with the Islamic Republic; in fact, the UAE is the largest trading partner with Iran. Qatar shares a border and a natural gas field with Iran and will continue its relations with Iran -within the framework of proposals between the GCC and Iran- and with all the states in the region.
- The current crisis has not had an impact on Qatar’s policy and efforts to end the war in Syria. “Our policy toward Syria remains the same,” he said, adding that it is not determined by crises but by values. The foreign minister reiterated that the perpetrators of war crimes there should be held accountable.
- The future of the Gulf Cooperation Council is now at risk. The profound threat coming from inside the GCC puts the sustainability of the organization in question. The foreign minister emphasized the role of the GCC as the “last source of stability in the region,” and noted that “we cannot afford another conflict in the region.”