Tuesday, 14 January, 2020

Qatari foreign minister criticizes Iran sanctions, UAE foreign policy as ‘destabilizing’

Qatar’s foreign minister expressed a host of grievances over his Gulf counterparts’ regional activities on Sunday, calling out Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in particular — and not just for their blockade of his country.

“We cannot blame one country on the destabilization of the region right now because the situation which we are suffering from is the result of a series of policies of different countries,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al Thani told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble in Doha, when asked if Riyadh were to blame for increased turbulence in the Middle East.

“We are disagreeing with [Saudi Arabia] currently when they are blockading Qatar, when they continue the war on Yemen without reason, the way they kidnapped the Lebanese prime minister,” the foreign minister said. But he did not limit his criticism to Saudi Arabia, which in 2017 spearheaded an economic and diplomatic blockade against Qatar over accusations Doha supports terrorism, something the Qataris deny.

“We disagree also with the Emiratis’ policy when they go and supported brutal regimes, supported military coup in Libya, supported a destabilization in Somalia, supported the separation and division of Yemen. And it’s just these policies which are destabilization.”

The UAE is ‘destabilizing’ Yemen, Libya and Somalia: al Thani

Under the shadow of a more aggressive Saudi Arabia, the UAE has been active in a number of African and Middle Eastern conflicts, often pursuing its own agenda independent of its Saudi and American allies. It wields a significant military presence on the ground in Yemen, where it’s trained and supported southern separatist groups in the war-ravaged country as a fighting force against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

“Most countries are supporting terrorism in other places, where they see it is fine for them to justify their means,” al Thani said, lamenting what he described as a double standard and blasting Saudi and Emirati accusations that Qatar supports terrorism.

“In Yemen, when al-Qaeda had been paid to leave the place for them and have claimed a victory, this is not a support for terrorism? It is a support for terrorism.”

The minister was referring to reports alleging UAE forces paid off al-Qaeda militants to leave certain areas of Yemen, often letting them depart with weapons, munitions and wads of cash. The reports also alleged that the Saudi-led coalition recruited hundreds of members of the terrorist group as foot soldiers to fight the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, who seized the capital Sanaa in late 2014. The war has become what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The UAE is one of Washington’s staunchest strategic allies in the war on terror, U.S. officials say, and has been lauded for its collaboration with American forces in combating AQAP on the ground. The UAE foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment at time of publication.

Al Thani also called out the Emiratis for what he described as destabilizing activities in Libya and Somalia. A 2017 UN report accused the UAE of violating an international arms embargo on Libya by sending attack helicopters and other military equipment to the renegade General Khalifa Haftar, a powerful military leader whose forces do not recognize the UN-backed government in Tripoli.

Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi began training security forces in the breakaway territory of Somaliland earlier this year and has been developing the semi-autonomous region’s port of Berbera, outraging the Somali government in Mogadishu. Somaliland authorities, who have claimed independence from Somalia since 1991, welcome the UAE’s engagement.

“Supporting the destabilization of Somalia, it is a support of terrorism,” al Thani said.

While Somalia grapples with a severe terrorist threat from Islamic militant group al-Shabab, Somaliland has not suffered a major terrorist attack in a decade.

Engagement with Iran

The minister also criticized U.S. sanctions on Iran and called for better engagement among GCC members to solve regional crises.

“We are not encouraging the unilateral measures against any country. Sanctions are not the way forward to solve a problem,” al Thani said. The U.S. reimposed sanctions on large swathes of the Iranian economy after withdrawing from the multilateral 2015 Iran nuclear deal in May of this year.

“We encourage the U.S. to come back to the renegotiation and have a diplomatic solution,” he urged. “Because we cannot afford another escalation in our region. You can imagine our situation in Qatar, which we are between Iran and Saudi, and both of them are rivalries. And also Iran and U.S., and U.S. has a very strong relation with Qatar, it’s putting us in an uncomfortable situation.”

“Iran is part of our region, whether we like it or not, whether we agree with their policy or we disagree,” the minister continued. “It doesn’t mean that we don’t engage and we just stay away and confront each other in proxies, like Yemen, like Syria, like Iraq, like Lebanon.”

If states don’t engage in a regional framework that addresses the needs and concerns of each country, al Thani said, “we will not reach a solution.”


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