ISTANBUL/CAIRO, June 18 (Xinhua) — Turkey is intensifying its diplomatic efforts to mediate the crisis between Qatar and several Arab countries, but experts say the results could be limited due to its one-sided pro-Doha stance.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has just concluded a whirlwind tour of three Gulf nations, including Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, as part of Turkey’s diplomatic offensive to break the blockade imposed on Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt.
But experts fear that, due to its pro-Qatar stance, Turkey’s latest diplomatic efforts could yield only limited results in ending the crisis and bringing the situation back to normal.
NO MAJOR OUTCOME FROM CAVUSOGLU’S GULF TOUR
On June 5, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, as well as several other Muslim nations including Egypt, cut off diplomatic ties with Qatar and closed off sea, air and land links to the tiny Gulf country, accusing it of sponsoring terrorism, interfering in their internal affairs and cultivating warm ties with Iran, a Saudi rival. Doha has vehemently dismissed the claims as unjustified.
Turkey, a regional power eager to display its clout at a time of feuding with the United States, has been playing an active role in trying to calm the tensions.
Cavusoglu’s meetings with leaders of Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia were largely closed to the press. No major announcement was made during Cavusoglu’s three-nation Gulf tour, which demonstrates the difficulties that Turkey faces in its mediation efforts.
Meeting with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani and Qatari counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani on Wednesday, Cavusoglu reportedly praised the “wise and calm manner” with which Doha has approached the current crisis.
Speaking to reporters in Kuwait on Thursday, Cavusoglu reiterated the hope that the standoff be settled through dialogue with all parties coming together. Calling Saudi Arabia “the big brother of the Gulf region,” he said Riyadh is playing an very important role in regional peace and security.
On Friday, the top Turkish diplomat held a meeting with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud in Mecca. No specifics of the meeting were provided to the press by either side.
However, Saudi Foreign Ministry said Saturday it won’t allow Turkey to establish a military base on its land like the latter does in Qatar. This could be interpreted as a snub by Riyadh which is uneasy about Ankara’s close ties with Doha.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also launched a diplomatic push Friday to mediate the crisis, by holding a teleconference with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron and the Qatari emir. They agreed to keep close cooperation and seek to end the crisis through dialogue and negotiations.
TURKEY’S PRO-DOHA STANCE IRKS SAUDI-LED ALLIANCE
Turkey’s eagerness to broker an end to the Qatari crisis is believed to be mainly driven by its ideological and economic interests, as it shares many of Doha’s political views and has a robust economic relationship with the rich Gulf nation.
Since the Qatari crisis started, Turkey has openly voiced support to Qatar, one of its major trade partners and a main source of investment, while criticizing the Saudi-led blockade on Doha as inhumane.
Two days after the crisis broke out, the Turkish parliament swiftly ratified a deal to deploy Turkish troops to Qatar that was signed in late 2014, in a sign of showing solid support to Doha. Then a three-member Turkish military delegation went to Qatar to prepare for the establishment of a military base there.
Meanwhile, Turkish Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci on Saturday reassured Doha that Turkey could meet “all the humanitarian needs of Qatar,” after having supplied 5,000 tons of food to Qatar in humanitary aid.
Turkey’s open support to Qatar is a choice based on its economic and strategic considerations. One one hand, Qatar, Turkey’s 7th biggest investor last year, has direct investments in Turkey as high as 18 billion U.S. dollars, while the value of the projects undertaken by Turkish construction companies in Qatar, which will host the 2022 World Cup, has reached about 8.5 billion U.S. dollars.
“Turkey’s openly pro-Qatar policy stems from its deep economic, political and military engagement which has been built up over the years,” Ilhan Uzgel, a senior Turkish analyst of international relations, told Xinhua.
On another hand, the recent concerted actions against Doha, backed by the U.S. government, has sounded an alarming bell to Turkey. Many Erdogan supporters fear that he could be the next target by the U.S. after the Qatari emir.
Washington has so far snubbed Erdogan’s requests to extradite the U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, leader of the Gulen Movement that was blamed for the 2016 failed coup against Erdogan, while criticizing Turkey’s post-coup crackdown for violating human rights and rule of law.
ONE-SIDED APPROACH HURTS CHANCES OF MEDIATION SUCCESS
While plausible, Turkey’s one-sided support to Qatar could damage the chances of success of its mediation efforts, experts said.
“Ankara’s excessively one-sided intrusion in the crisis may lead to a loss of sympathy, respect and funds from Saudi Arabia and others in the anti-Qatar camp,” Faruk Logoglu, a former Turkish diplomat who once held senior posts in the Turkish Foreign Ministry, told Xinhua.
Logoglu insisted that Turkey, as a non-Arab country, should not take sides in an inter-Arab conflict.
“To stop further future damage to Turkey’s national interests, Ankara must stay put and mute and recalibrate its position to a balanced and non-interventionist mode,” he said.
Some analysts fear that Turkey’s stance on the Qatari crisis could backfire and damage its own interests by angering a number of Sunni-dominated Arab countries.
Uzgel warned that Turkey’s pro-Qatar policy brings serious risks to itself. “By taking the Qatari side, Turkey confronts a huge Sunni block that stretches from North Africa to the Maldives,” he said.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt have accused 59 individuals and 12 charity organizations in Qatar of having links with terrorism, including the Muslim Brotherhood and the al-Qaida-linked terror group Fatah al-Sham, formerly known as al-Nusra Front.
Saudi Arabia and Egypt named the Muslim Brotherhood as a terror group, while it is not blacklisted as such by many others, including Qatar and Turkey, as well as the United Nations.
Moreover, Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are also highly disturbed about Qatar’s warm ties with Shiite-dominated Iran, which they see as a major security threat.