Qatar says Saudi-led ultimatum ‘unreasonable’
DOHA/WASHINGTON - Agence France-Presse
UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash talks during a news conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Reuters photo.Qatar on June 24 denounced a sweeping list of demands from Saudi Arabia and its allies in an escalating Gulf diplomatic crisis as unreasonable and an impingement on the emirate's sovereignty.
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt want Qatar to meet the 13-point ultimatum in return for an end to a nearly three-week-old diplomatic and trade "blockade" of the emirate.
Qatar has been given 10 days to meet the demands, which apparently include a call to close down broadcaster Al-Jazeera, but Doha said the requests were unrealistic.
“This list of demands confirms what Qatar has said from the beginning -- the illegal blockade has nothing to do with combating terrorism, it is about limiting Qatar's sovereignty, and outsourcing our foreign policy," said Sheikh Saif bin Ahmed Al-Thani, head of Qatar's government communications office, in a statement.
"The U.S. secretary of state recently called upon the blockading nations to produce a list of grievances that was 'reasonable and actionable.’ The British foreign secretary asked that the demands be 'measured and realistic'. This list does not satisfy that criteria."
The four Arab governments delivered the demands to Qatar through mediator Kuwait on June 22, more than two weeks after severing all ties with the emirate and imposing an embargo.
The document has not been published but has been widely leaked and the demands are sweeping in their scope.
They include the closure of Al-Jazeera television, a long-standing source of conflict between Doha and neighbouring countries which accuse it of fomenting regional strife.
The ultimatum also include calls for Doha to cut ties to groups including the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Al-Qaeda and Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah movement.
Qatar has also been asked to hand over opposition figures wanted by its three neighbours and Egypt and to downgrade diplomatic ties with Iran.
Notably, it has also been told to shut a Turkish military base in the emirate.
Qatar's foreign affair ministry said it was "studying" the list, "in order to prepare an appropriate response".
Meshal Hamad Al-Thani, Qatar's ambassador to the United States, tweeted that the list was meant to "punish Qatar for its independence".
Qatar was warned by one of its most hawkish critics in the region that unless it meets the list of demands, Doha faces "divorce" from its Gulf neighbours.
Anwar Gargash, the UAE's state minister for foreign affairs, said Qatar should yield to the demands.
"It would be wiser that (Qatar) deal seriously with the demands and concerns of the neighbours or a divorce will take place," he wrote on Twitter.
The demands confirm that "the crisis is profound," Gargash added.
He also said Qatar leaked the document containing the demands by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt, which cut diplomatic ties earlier this month, accusing Qatar of sponsoring terrorism.
Qatar strongly denies such charges.
Al-Jazeera, one of the largest news organisations in the world, responded to the demands by saying it "deplores" calls for it to be taken off air.
"We in the network believe that any call for closing down Al-Jazeera is nothing but an attempt to silence the freedom of expression in the region and to suppress people's right to information," the broadcaster said in a statement.
In the other official response out of Qatar, its Human Rights Committee said the demands represented "gross violations" of basic rights.
Qatar is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council with Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
As well as cutting diplomatic ties, Qatar's neighbours closed their air space to Qatari carriers and blocked the emirate's only land border, vital for its food imports.
Qatar is home to the largest U.S. base in the region, Al-Udeid, and Bahrain is home to the Fifth Fleet of the United States Navy.
The U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has urged a diplomatic solution and Washington had been pushing for a clear list of grievances that are "reasonable and actionable".
His spokeswoman Heather Nauert said June 20 the United States was "mystified" that Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies had failed to present details justifying their embargo on Qatar.
U.S. President Donald Trump, however, has made statements siding with Saudi Arabia in the crisis.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said June 23 that any conditions placed on Qatar should be "measured and realistic.”
Also on June 23, the White House said it considers the deepening crisis in the Gulf to be primarily “a family issue,” urging regional leaders to chart a way out while offering U.S. help in enabling talks.
When asked about a list of demands placed on Doha by Saudi Arabia and its allies as the price for lifting an almost three-week “blockade” on Qatar, press secretary Sean Spicer declined to comment directly.
“We believe it’s a family issue,” he said. “If we can help facilitate those discussions then so be it, but this is something they want to and should work out for themselves.”
Asked specifically about Al-Jazeera, and America’s attachment to freedom of the press, President Trump’s spokesman replied: “We are going to play a facilitating role in those discussions but that’s a discussion that these countries need to have amongst themselves.”