The diplomatic strife among the Gulf States continues for the fourth month, with no signs of a resolution to the longest diplomatic strife in the region. On June 5, 2017, Saudi Arabia with its three biggest allies severed diplomatic ties with Qatar accusing their gas-rich tiny neighbor of funding terrorism and radical Islamic groups.
The Middle East experts, however, have other opinions. It is believed that at the core of the dispute is Saudi Arabia’s objection to Qatar’s increasingly ‘independent foreign policy’ that barely serves the Saudi interest and Qatar’s powerful media franchise Al-Jazeera, which is known to be fairly critical of the monarchies in the Arab region, except of course, the one from Qatar.
The Saudi bloc has been alleging Qatar of supporting Iran since the day it severed ties with the country. Now on last Monday, the Foreign minister of Qatar Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani told the French Institute of International Relations, “They said Qatar was now closer to Iran. By their measures, they are pushing Qatar to Iran. They are giving Iran, or any regional force, Qatar like a gift.”
The President of France has been urging the Arab countries to mend ties with Qatar because the “embargo measures affecting the people of Qatar, in particular, families, and students.” He urged again on September 15 to lift the blockade “as quickly as possible.”
The Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim regretted the ‘unjust blockade’ imposed by the Saudi bloc in his UN General Assembly Speech. Mr. Tamim said, “I stand before you while my country and my people are subjected to an ongoing and unjust blockade imposed since June 5 by neighboring countries.”
Two Arab Leaders Talk but in Vain
The Emir of Qatar held a phone conversation with the de-facto leader of Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Bin Salman on 9, September. In the first ever official conversation between the officials of the countries since 5 June, both the leaders “stressed the need to resolve this crisis” through dialogue “to ensure the unity and stability” of the Gulf region.
Two weeks passed since the phone call between the leaders. But the gulf crisis is still not resolved. The sincerity of the Saudi bloc has been questioned as FM Al-Jubeir again accused Qatar of terrorism in General Assembly instead of a peace message.
The more Saudi Arabia distances itself from Qatar, the more Iran gets closer to Qatar. A Qatar-Iran pact could cost Saudi Arabia way more than a friendly small neighbor Qatar who pursues independent policies.
The Saudi bloc seems not to listen to the calls to resolve the dispute. The Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir addressed the 72nd UN General Assembly, “The crisis in Qatar is jeopardizing our policy of combating terrorism and extremism and the cutting off funding of such terrorism.”
President Trump’s U-turn
The U.S. President Trump’s stance on the gulf crisis initially pleased the Saudi bloc but confused the world. Trump’s tweets in support of Saudi Arabia’s severance of diplomatic ties with Qatar came to be as an unprecedented stance for a U.S. President given that the U.S. has its largest Middle East military base in Qatar. President Trump, however, changed his stance shortly and requested the blockading countries to resolve the crisis.
A few days ago, President Trump met the Qatar Emir in New York during the UN General Assembly. He told the press after a meeting with the Emir, “We are right now in a situation where we’re trying to solve a problem in the Middle East. And I think we’ll get it solved, I have a very strong feeling that it will be solved pretty quickly.”
Qatar-UK Defense Pact
The Saudi endeavors to isolate Qatar apparently didn’t work out. The relation between Qatar and the U.S. strengthened. Qatar’s relations with the EU didn’t change. And much to Qatar’s bliss, the country has recently signed a defense pact with the United Kingdom.
After signing a letter of intent with Qatar, the UK Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said, “This will be the first major defense contract with Qatar, one of the UK’s strategic partners. This is an important moment in our defense relationship and the basis for even closer defense cooperation between our two countries.”
Qatar Refuses the Economic Impact of the Blockade
Qatar, a small oil, and gas-rich Gulf nation have been through a very tough condition ever since the embargo was imposed. The country’s food security was threatened after Saudi Arabia closed the land border with Qatar. The diplomatic strife between the countries heavily impacted the Qatari economy. But the Qatari officials barely accepted the hardship the country has been enduring, though.
Qatar’s Energy Minister Mohammed al-Sada claimed, “During this blockade, we have never missed a single shipment of oil or gas to any of our consuming partners. That shows how committed Qatar is, not only to our economy here and reliability but also to the consuming countries because this is a very strategic commodity.”
Now, resolving the Gulf Crisis is at Saudi Arabia’s disposal. Since Qatar is directly afflicted by the crisis, the country has been expressing its willingness to resolve it since the beginning. It is probably now a prestige issue for the Saudi officials to hold a dialogue embrace Qatar back after all the campaigns. But the more Saudi Arabia distances itself from Qatar, the more Iran gets closer to Qatar. A Qatar-Iran pact could cost Saudi Arabia way more than a friendly small neighbor Qatar who pursues independent policies.