The crisis with Qatar has entered a new phase with the quartet of nations prepared for a prolonged stand-off that could disrupt the GCC and lead to the organisation being “refashioned”, Dr Anwar Gargash, the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs has said.
Visiting London for an address to Chatham House on Monday Dr Gargash described the imposition of “harsh measures” against Qatar in June as a wake-up call from its neighbours. Having set out the principles that must underpin a reconciliation, the four states, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain, believed it was up to Qatar to find a meaningful response.
With a small but vociferous band of organised protesters banging on the doors outside, the minister told the packed conference that the solution must be found within the region but that it must be guaranteed from outside. In particular US-led monitoring of Qatar would bolster confidence that Doha would not renege on its word.
"We're not going to put this [crisis] as a priority now. We've sent our message and for us when the Qataris feel that it is time for them to re-examine their policies the doors are open, but we have also other pressing issues," he told The National on a visit to London's leading foreign affairs forum. "Our message is it's up to you. We have taken our measures, harsh they might be but you should have dealt with them in a mature way."
The speech came two weeks after Qatar’s foreign minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman, was given the opportunity to address the institution.
Dr Gargash set out the central charge that the Qatari state had used its billions to support extremism and terrorists that often targeted its own allies. The boycotting states have said Qatar’s attempts to export its influence was actively damaging the whole group.
“You cannot be part of a regional organisation dedicated to strengthening mutual security and furthering mutual interests, and at the same time undermine that security and harm those interests. You cannot be both our friend and the friend of Al Qaeda”.
Suggestions of a long estrangement should not be allowed to obscure that a political agreement between neighbouring and brotherly states could be reached.
Resolution required both agreement with Qatar's neighbours and transparency under international supervision.
“We need a regional solution and international monitoring,” he added. "We need to be certain that Qatar, a state with $300 billion in reserves, is no longer an official or unofficial sponsor of jihadist and terrorist causes.”
Dr Gargash denied outright the Washington Post claim that the UAE had carried out a hack of Qatari media in which its emir was quoted pledging support for Iran. "The Washington Post story that we hacked the Qataris isn't true," he said. He also dismissed the fake news report that the boycotting states had sent a letter to FIFA demanding that the World Cup 2022 is moved out of Qatar.
Diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis reached a high point last week. Qatar signed a memorandum of understanding with the US on tackling the presence of designated terrorists and promised new measures on sending financing to blacklisted groups.
The agreement between Doha and Washington was struck during US secretary of state Rex Tillerson’s four-day mediation mission to try and end the rift between Qatar and its neighbours.
The four Arab countries said the accord was “not enough” to resolve their points and that the imposed sanctions would remain in place until Qatar meets their demands.
"We all agree that the solution has to be regional and there is a lot of interest in this issue of monitoring the platform of support for terrorism. It is quite logical that this is US-led but that other countries within the EU could play an important part," Dr Gargash said.
"What will it monitor? It will monitor money, refuge [for designated terrorists and others] and broadcast."
Pressed on the implications for free speech represented by the demands levelled against Al Jazeera, the minister said criticism was misdirected.
"I have a huge problem with Al Jazeera broadcasting the extremist narrative, that is my main problem. I don't have a problem with other parts of it. We need to discuss it.”
One audience member with long experience of Middle Eastern diplomacy suggested there was a careful balance in the speech and the frank question and answer session. Two Al Jazeera journalists as well as activists from rights groups were given the opportunity to question the minister.
“I thought it left room for compromise. There were suggestions of such there and as such it dispelled some myths,” he said.
Dr Gargash also suggested that Iran would seek to capitalise on the crisis and Qatar’s isolation from its neighbours. The country had been uncharacteristically inactive so far. A power struggle between the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and President Hassan Rouhani appears to have prevented meddling by Tehran.
It would not remain at bay for long.