UAE ambassador threatens further sanctions against Qatar

Ambassador to Russia says Gulf states imposing demands are willing to be subjected to same monitoring regime

The Gulf states demanding that Qatar ends its independent-minded foreign policy and alleged support for extremism have said they are considering further economic pressure on the tiny country, such as reducing commercial links with states that continue to trade with Doha.

The warning, the latest escalation in the three-week dispute, was made by Omar Ghobash, the United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to Moscow and one of the most articulate figures in the row that has racked the region.

Speaking to the Guardian, he said the coalition would be willing to make themselves subject to the same western monitoring regime as Qatar to ensure key figures were not privately funding extremist groups.

The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain have imposed an economic and diplomatic embargo on Qatar, claiming its ruling family has been harbouring terrorists and funding extremism for years.

They have tabled 13 demands, and said Qatar must comply by next week or face further as yet unspecified consequences. The demands include cutting ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, closing the broadcaster al-Jazeera and reducing ties with Iran.

The US and most European capitals have been trying to push the two sides into talks in an effort to de-escalate the row, fearing that if the dispute continues indefinitely Qatar will be forced into the arms of Iran – the country that is doing most to undermine the impact of the embargo by sending food supplies to Doha.

Speaking in London, Ghobash said expulsion of Qatar from the Gulf Cooperation Council – often raised as a possible sanction – was not the only sanction available.

He added: “Their position today anyway is inconsistent with being members of the GCC because it is a common security and defence organisation. There are certain economic sanctions that we can take which are being considered right now.

“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.

“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.”

Qatar said on Wednesday the Saudi-led coalition’s refusal to negotiate was unacceptable. “This is contrary to the principles that govern international relations because you can’t just present lists of demands and refuse to negotiate,” said the Qatari foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, from Washington DC, where he held talks with the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, on Tuesday.

Ghobash insisted the UAE was trying with its allies to open a new chapter in the Middle East. “Yes we are making demands of Qatar, but it is very important to realise that we are imposing the same standards on ourselves.

“So if we are to ask for the monitoring of Qatari financial transactions and its funding of terrorism then we would be open to the same idea. This is not bullying. This is demanding a higher standard throughout the whole region.

“We have nothing to hide ourselves so we are willing to meet the same standards we are asking Qatar. The west has traditionally complained of a lack of financial transparency in the region, and there must be a huge amount that the west can do to monitor what is happening.”

He also warned: “We can escalate with more information, because we are not going to escalate militarily. That is not the way we are looking at things.”

Ghobash said he understood there was a risk that Qatar was being forced into a closer relationship with Iran. “We are asking Qatar to make a choice and we realise they may choose to take the route to Iran, and we are willing to accept the consequences of that.”

Asked whether the closure of al-Jazeera was a reasonable demand, he said: “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.

“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.”

Contributor

Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

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