Turkey says it will not close military base in Qatar

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ISTANBUL // Turkey rejected a call from four Arab states on Friday to shut down its military base in Qatar, saying the base was a guarantor of security in the Gulf and demands for its closure represented interference in Turkey’s relations with Doha.

The announcement came after Kuwait, which is mediating the dispute, sent Qatar a list of demands from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt, which have cut ties with Doha.

The list says Turkey’s military base in Qatar must be closed immediately, and insists that Doha must also shut down Al Jazeera TV station, cut back diplomatic relations with Iran and sever all ties with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Turkey’s defence minister Fikri Isik said the Turkish base aims to train Qatari soldiers and increase the tiny Gulf nation’s security, and that “no one should be disturbed by” its presence in Qatar.

Mr Isik said he had not yet seen a request for the closure of the base, but made it clear that Ankara had no plans to review the 2014 agreement with Qatar which led to it being set up.

“If there is such a demand, it will mean interference in bilateral ties,” Mr Isik said.

Five armoured vehicles and 23 military personnel arrived in Doha on Thursday in a deployment described by Turkey’s armed forces as part of a military training and cooperation deal, joining about 88 Turkish soldiers already in Qatar. The Hurriyet newspaper said a joint exercise by Turkish and Qatari forces was expected following the Eid Al Fitr holiday, and the number of Turkish soldiers sent to the Gulf state could eventually reach 1,000. An air force contingent was also envisaged.

“The strengthening of the Turkish base would be a positive step in terms of the Gulf’s security,” Mr Isik said. “Re-evaluating the base agreement with Qatar is not on our agenda.”

Turkey, which has long tried to play the role of regional mediator, is also wary of upsetting its other allies in the Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, and Mr Isik said Ankara had hoped that tensions over Qatar could be resolved without a crisis.

The minister said Turkey’s presence in Qatar should be seen as a benefit for the whole Gulf. “The base in Qatar is both a Turkish base and one that will preserve the security of Qatar and the region,” he said.

Turkey has matched its military support for Qatar by stepping up commercial links.

Customs and trade minister Bulent Tufenkci said Turkish exports to Qatar have tripled since the four Arab countries began boycotting the Gulf state earlier this month.

“Since June 5 exports to Qatar have amounted to $32.5 million. Of this $12.5 million is food. This figure is three times the normal level,” Mr Tufenkci said

Turkey has sent more than 100 cargo planes of supplies to Qatar but minister of the economy, Nihat Zeybekci, has said it was not sustainable to maintain supplies through an air lift.

The Qatari government has said it will not negotiate until the other Arab nations lift their blockade.

“At the moment, there is no likelihood of bringing the matter back to the table,” Mr Isik said.

US president Donald Trump has also accused Qatar of supporting extremist organisations. Earlier this week, the US secretary of state Rex Tillerson had warned the demands must be “reasonable and actionable.”

* Reuters



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