The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs appeared to close the door on mediation efforts to resolve the Doha crisis on Wednesday, saying “we have to go on without Qatar”.
Dr Anwar Gargash said the crisis was no longer temporary and that looking beyond Qatar was now the UAE’s permanent policy towards its neighbour, which Abu Dhabi, along with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt, accuses of sponsoring terrorism and promoting extremism.
“Now that [the] Qatar crisis has taken so long, important to look beyond ‘crisis’ & think of it as [a] new set of relations in [the] Gulf replacing old ones,” Dr Gargash said in a series of tweets addressing the crisis.
He added that “barring Qatar’s review of past policies, [the] current state will continue for a while. New regional relationship will emerge & strengthen”.
Dr Gargash’s remarks came just hours before US secretary of state Rex Tillerson was scheduled to meet Qatari foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani for talks at the state department.
The quartet of countries last month imposed measures to isolate and pressure Qatar, which they say supports terrorist groups in Syria and Libya, meddles in their internal affairs through media outlets and by supporting opposition figures, and more broadly backs political Islamist forces across the Arab region which undermine stability and spread extremism.
Qatar denies the charges and says the dispute is political and seeks to violate its sovereignty.
“The 4 states emerging from [the] crisis representing core policies of confronting extremism & terrorism & working for Arab security & stability,” Mr Gargash added on Twitter.
“We have to go on without Qatar; a conservative monarchy, in [a] totally anachronistic place. Promoting policies & values it does not practice.”
There had been mounting optimism in recent days that the two sides might engage in direct negotiations and begin to resolve the dispute. Qatar and the United States signed an understanding on Tuesday last week on an enhanced role for US officials in monitoring Qatari efforts to clamp down on terrorist fund-raising — one of the quartet’s key initial demands.
On Friday, US secretary of state Mr Tillerson said Qatar had made significant progress and called on the quartet to begin lifting some of the measures as a sign of good faith. Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim Al Thani, meanwhile said he was willing to begin talks.
Despite this, however, there have been no signs that Sheikh Tamim is willing to accede to any demands that would reorient his country’s policies of supporting political Islamist groups or aligning more closely with the Saudi-led quartet.
The four countries are apparently prepared for the isolation measures to be left in place and for a de facto or formal severing of ties with GCC member Doha — an outcome US officials have been working to avoid as they say it undermines both the fight against ISIL and co-ordinated efforts to contain Iran.
“Dr Gargash's tweets suggest that the quartet is attempting to strike a balance between maintaining the pressure on Qatar and watering down any hopes for successful mediation of the crisis, while not escalating further in the absence of international support for formal new measures against Qatar,” said Kristian Ulrichsen, a fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute and the author of The United Arab Emirates: Power, Politics and Policymaking.
It is unclear what a permanent break with Qatar would look like, but Mr Ulrichsen added that Doha’s membership in the GCC “may simply fall into a state of informal suspension, at least until the annual GCC Summit in December, which buys four months to figure out how a new regional rearrangement might work”.
Dr Gargash's tweets came ahead of a meeting in Manama between the foreign ministers of the quartet, where the countries will discuss what their next steps will be.
Earlier on Wednesday, Bloomberg reported a Gulf official as saying that mediation efforts aimed at starting direct talks had reached an impasse, and that the quartet countries had not responded to proposals by Washington and London intended to start talks.
It came after the quartet on Tuesday added 18 additional individuals and entities it claims are backed by Qatar to a terrorist blacklist. In a joint statement, the four countries said Doha was continuing to fall short of its promises on ending support for extremists.
The UAE Central Bank said on Wednesday it had issued a memo to all banks and financial institutions operating in the country to begin an immediate search for, and freezing of, all bank accounts, investments and deposits that may be held by any of the 18 individual and entities.
Also on Wednesday, a number of lawyers from the quartet came together in Cairo to form a committee charged with suing countries funding terrorist attacks in order to compensate the families of victims, according to UAE state news agency Wam.