CAIRO — Four Arab nations seeking to isolate Qatar over its alleged support for extremist groups were angered Wednesday by what they said was a “negative” response by the tiny Gulf nation to their demands for ending the crisis roiling the region.
Doha’s response, they said, was “not serious” and betrayed Qatar’s “failure” to realize the gravity of the situation.
The announcement followed a meeting by foreign ministers from the four nations — Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain — in Cairo, shortly after they said they had received Doha’s reply.
The four accuse Qatar of supporting terror groups and also of maintaining close relations with Shiite power Iran — Saudi Arabia’s nemesis. They also say Qatar must stop meddling in their affairs.
Egypt’s foreign minister, Sameh Shukri, told reporters Qatar’s response to the Arab states’ 13-point list of demands was “negative on the whole.” It did not “lay the foundations for Qatar’s abandonment of the policies it pursues. It’s a position that does not realize the gravity of the situation,” he added.
The ministers did not say what their next steps would be — that, they explained, would be announced after further consultations. They will meet next in Bahrain, but date has yet to be set.
“We hope wisdom will prevail and Qatar will eventually make the right decisions,” added Shukri, who said the four nations were acting against Qatar within the boundaries of international law, as well as the interest to safeguard regional and international security.
Some of the rhetoric by the four ministers, however, was clearly belligerent.
The Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan said Qatar was only interested in “destruction, incitement, extremism and terrorism,” rather than in good neighbourly relations.
Shukri said Qatar’s policies could not be allowed to continue and vowed that Egyptian blood would not be shed in vain, a reference to deadly attacks by militants on Egyptian army and security forces. Cairo has long accused Qatar of supporting extremists and providing refuge and financial backing for the Muslim Brotherhood, a group Egypt outlawed and branded a terrorist organization shortly after the military in 2013 ousted President Mohammed Morsi, a Brotherhood member.
Earlier Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump, called on all parties in the dispute to “negotiate constructively” and to “stop terrorist financing and discredit extremist ideology.”
A White House statement said Trump’s call for a negotiated settlement came in a telephone conversation with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.
The dispute erupted early last month when the four Arab countries cut ties to the FIFA 2022 World Cup host. Qatar denies supporting extremists and has defended its warm relations with Iran; the two countries share a massive undersea natural gas field.
The four nations issued a 13-point list of demands on June 22, giving Qatar 10 days to comply. They later extended the deadline by another 48 hours at the request of Kuwait, which is trying to mediate the crisis. That second deadline expired early Wednesday morning.
On Tuesday, intelligence chiefs from the four Arab countries met in Cairo, likely to discuss the crisis, according to Egypt’s state MENA news agency.
Qatar’s response was not made public but it had previously called the demands — which include shutting down its Al-Jazeera satellite news network, closing a Turkish military base in the country and paying restitution — an affront to its sovereignty.
The crisis has become a global concern as neither side appears to be backing down. Qatar, the world’s biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas, hosts some 10,000 American troops at its sprawling al-Udeid Air Base. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been trying to ease tensions, while Trump’s earlier comments on Qatar funding extremist groups back the four countries’ position.
The nations could impose financial sanctions or force Qatar out of the Gulf Cooperation Council, a regional body known as the GCC that serves as a counterbalance to Iran.
Some Arab media outlets have suggested a military confrontation or a change of leadership in Qatar could be in the offing, but officials have said those options are not on the table.
On Tuesday, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel visited officials in both the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. He said Germany supported the UAE’s efforts at confronting those who fund extremists but also urged the GCC to find common ground.
“For us (Europeans), the GCC is the guarantor of stability and security in the region,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sheikh Abdullah, the UAE’s foreign minister, has kept up the pressure on Qatar.
“To defeat terrorism, we must confront extremism, we must confront hate speech, we must confront the harbouring and sheltering of extremists and terrorists, and funding them,” he said. “Unfortunately, we in this region see that our sister nation of Qatar has allowed and harboured and encouraged all of this.”
Qatar’s foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, criticized the four Arab nations for trying to isolate Qatar “under the banner of fighting terrorism.”
Though Qatar Airways’ routes over its neighbours have been closed, along with the country’s sole land border with Saudi Arabia, Doha has been able to import food and goods from other countries. Its economy, fueled by its natural gas exports, seems to be weathering the crisis though there has been pressure on its stock market and currency.
The credit ratings agency Moody’s warned early Wednesday that it had set Qatar’s economic outlook to negative over the crisis.
“Depending on the duration and potential further escalation of tensions, the dispute could negatively affect Qatar’s economic and fiscal strength. Absent a swift resolution, economic activity will likely be hampered by the measures imposed so far,” Moody’s said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying in an interview with German weekly Die Zeit Wednesday that “what is being done with Qatar runs counter to international law.”
He said the Arab states’ demand for a Turkish military base in Qatar to be closed shows “a lack of respect toward us and Qatar.” ”The Americans are also there, with 9,000 soldiers, and so are the French. … Why are the Saudis disturbed by us and not by that? This is unacceptable.”
At the United Nations, spokesman Stephane Dujarric said later Wednesday that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has sent U.N. political chief Jeffrey Feltman to the Persian Gulf to discuss how the world organization could help resolve the crisis.
Feltman has already been to the United Arab Emirates and was in Kuwait on Wednesday, Dujarric said, adding that he would also be travelling to Qatar’s capital, Doha.
Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and Eileen Putman in Washington contributed to this report.
Hamza Hendawi And Mohammed Wagdy, The Associated Press