Qatar delivered its official response Monday to 13 demands made by a Saudi-led coalition of Arab states engaged in a blockade against their neighbor, as President Donald Trump again weighed in on the regional dispute. There was no immediate indication what the reply was or whether it would be sufficient to end the four-week-old crisis.
Qatar’s foreign minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, flew to Kuwait to hand-deliver the reply to Kuwait’s emir, according to the news agencies of both Qatar and Kuwait. The visit came just hours after a 10-day Saudi deadline for Qatar to respond to the demands was extended by 48 hours, at Kuwait’s request, until midnight on Tuesday.
Kuwait has been central to efforts to mediate an end to the crisis, which threatens to unravel a network of alliances underpinning the United States’ military presence in the Middle East and further destabilize the region. Saudi Arabia has been joined by Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt in the campaign to isolate Qatar and force changes to its foreign policy, which so far has been confined to an air, sea and land blockade.
Trump also participated in the diplomacy, making a series of telephone calls Sunday to the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Qatar and to the crown prince of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.
Trump, who has repeatedly sided with Saudi Arabia in the dispute, tweeted on Monday morning about one of the phone calls, but he did not indicate whether a solution has been reached.
“Spoke yesterday with the King of Saudi Arabia about peace in the Middle-East. Interesting things are happening!” the tweet said.
A White House statement suggested, however, that Trump continues to back Saudi Arabia and its allies against Qatar, despite efforts by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to adopt a more measured approach.
Trump “reiterated the importance of stopping terrorist financing and discrediting extremist ideology,” the statement said. Although Trump believes that unity in the region is important, “the overriding objective of his initiative is the cessation of funding for terrorism,” it said.
At issue is Qatar’s perceived support for what Saudi Arabia and its allies have labeled “terrorism,” including Qatari backing for Islamist political movements in the region and its periodic contacts with Saudi Arabia’s arch-nemesis, Iran.
Qatar has said that its activities amount only to the pursuit of an independent foreign policy that often runs counter to Saudi interests. It accuses its larger neighbor of seeking to encroach on its sovereignty.
The list of 13 demands includes the closure of the influential Al Jazeera television network and the severance of all ties with Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaida and the Islamic State. Another requirement is that Qatar end support for political dissidents in the four countries making the demands.
The spat has revealed rifts within the Trump administration as well as the Middle East. While Trump has made it clear he supports Saudi Arabia and its allies, Tillerson has suggested that the demands on Qatar are excessive and may have less to do with terrorism than with long-standing feuds between the region’s ruling families.
Kuwait is now expected to convey Qatar’s response to the representatives of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, whose foreign ministers are scheduled to meet Wednesday in Cairo to discuss their next steps.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Liz Sly