Turkey seeks end to Qatar crisis by end of Ramadan

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ABU DHABI // The president of Turkey has called for a resolution to the dispute between Qatar and other Arab and Gulf states by the end of Ramadan.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan made his plea during a visit to Istanbul on Saturday by Bahrain’s foreign minister, Sheikh Khaled Al Khalifa, for talks on the crisis.

The row erupted on Monday when Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain moved to isolate Qatar over its support for Islamist and terrorist groups.

Turkey is Doha’s closest ally and, having increased food and water exports to Qatar, is now fast-tracking plans to send troops to its permanent base in the country.

Sheikh Khaled said he had explained to Mr Erdogan how ­Qatar’s actions had led to the rift and said Doha should guarantee that it will not continue.

Turkey would continue its efforts to resolve the dispute, Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said alongside Sheikh Khaled.

“Our president has stressed the need to resolve this upsetting issue before the end of Ramadan, as it is against our religion, beliefs, and traditions, especially during the month of Ramadan,” Mr Cavusoglu said.

The foreign minister said the purpose of Turkey’s military base in Qatar was to contribute to the security of the Gulf region and not a specific state. About 90 Turkish soldiers are deployed at the base and there are plans to send up to 250 more within two months.

Turkish warplanes and ships will also be dispatched and a Turkish delegation plans to go to Qatar in the coming days to assess the base.

Ankara has worked alongside Qatar to support Islamist groups and militias in Syria and elsewhere.

Qatar has so far refused to comply with demands made by Saudi Arabia and the UAE that it give up its core foreign policy of supporting a spectrum of Islamist groups, and has faced escalating pressure from its two larger GCC neighbours.

Meanwhile, Russia’s foreign minister called for dialogue to resolve the crisis.

Sergey Lavrov met Qatar’s foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed Al Thani, in Moscow on Saturday and said “we have observed with concern the news of this escalation”.

“We cannot be happy in a situation when the relations between our partners are worsening. We are in favour of resolving any disagreements through … dialogue,” Mr Lavrov said.

On Friday the two countries imposed sanctions on 59 individuals and a dozen organisations based in Qatar for financial ties to Islamist militias from Libya to Yemen, as well as Al Qaeda. The list included members of the ruling family.

Bahrain’s justice minister on Saturday said it would prosecute any person or political group caught supporting or even communicating with any person or group on the sanctions list.

The UAE’s central bank also ordered the country’s financial institutions to apply enhanced scrutiny on any accounts with six Qatari banks, including Qatar National Bank, which is the largest bank in Africa and the Middle East, and could potentially affect liquidity in the Qatari banking system.

As the crisis has expanded, Doha, the world’s largest exporter of natural gas, has called on its strategic allies and important partners around the world to intervene.

On Friday, the US president and secretary of state took contrasting approaches to Washington’s mediation efforts.

Donald Trump backed Riyadh and Abu Dhabi’s decision to isolate Qatar while the US secretaries of defence and state sought to calm the situation among its closest Arab partners, all of whom play a key role in US counterterrorism and security policies in the region.

After meetings with Mr Trump and his top national security officials, Rex Tillerson called for de-escalation and dialogue, and said the crisis was “hindering US military action in the region, and the campaign against ISIL”.

He said: “The emir of Qatar has made progress in halting financial support and expelling terrorist elements from his country, but he must do more and he must do it more quickly.”

Mr Tillerson’s statement called on other Gulf partners to do more to cut off support within their own countries for extremists.

About an hour later, however, Mr Trump focused directly on Qatar with a sharp rebuke, saying Doha, unfortunately, has “historically been a funder of terror at a very high level”.

The UAE ambassador to Washington, Yousef Al Otaiba, welcomed Mr Trump’s comments, saying “the president is absolutely right, stopping funding for extremism means starting with Qatar”.

After Mr Trump’s remarks, the Pentagon reiterated its position that Qatar was a key US military partner, saying “the evolving situation is hindering our ability to plan for longer-term military operations”. The regional headquarters of US central command is hosted by Qatar at the Al Udeid airbase.

Qatar’s ambassador to Washington on Thursday told the Financial Times that his country relished Mr Trump’s intervention and mediation, but after the US president’s remarks, Meshal Hamad Al Thani took to Twitter in apparent surprise. “We appeal to the US administration to rely on their own sources and not on countries with political agendas.”

Top European diplomats called for mediation, and the French president Emmanuel Macron also appealed for calm. Paris has growing economic and security ties with Doha.

tkhan@thenational.ae

* With reporting from Reuters



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