Meshal bin Hamad Al Thani: Shock and surprise over rift

Qatar’s ambassador to US says Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt’s severing of ties came as a ‘shock and surprise’.

Qatar’s ambassador to the United States, Meshal bin Hamad Al Thani, says he has hopes for a quick resolution to the ongoing diplomatic dispute with neighbouring Gulf countries.

Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates severed diplomatic ties and transport links with Qatar on Monday, accusing it of supporting “extremism”.

Talking to Al Jazeera’s Shihab Rattansi in Washington, DC on Tuesday, Al Thani admitted the situation was deteriorating.

Al Jazeera: Just in the last few hours, more countries have distanced themselves from Qatar. This seems to be getting worse by the hour?

Meshal bin Hamad Al Thani: Indeed. This situation is becoming worse. We count on the mediation by His Highness, the Emir of Kuwait, and we hope that this crisis will be resolved very quickly.

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Al Jazeera: But how can it be resolved quickly – it seems that Saudi Arabia, UAE want concessions on the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Iran and Al Jazeera. Is Qatar willing to move on all of these subjects?

Al Thani: Until now, after this act of aggression to Qatar, we haven’t received any justifications or motives or details on why such aggression is happening in the first place. We all met in Riyadh, and nothing was raised there.

Qatar took part in a very successful conference on countering terrorism. His Highness Sheikh Tamim attended this conference and signed on to establish a centre to combat financial terrorism. So we don’t understand where this is coming from. 

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Al Jazeera: This isn’t the first time that Qatar has been accused of funding “terrorism”, al-Qaeda-linked groups, and Syria and even ISIL. 

Al Thani: There are certain institutions pushing arguments that Qatar is financing terrorism without any proof. What matters is the cooperation with the United States. Our cooperation with the US is very solid.

Al Jazeera: We understand Donald Trump called the Saudi King. Has he called the Emir of Qatar yet? How close is this cooperation with Trump? Because he is giving all these indications, that as far as he is concerned, the Saudis have convinced him that Qatar is not helping, and is in fact hindering, the fight against “extremism”.

Al Thani: Again, there is no ground for these accusations.

Al Jazeera: But the president appears to thinks there are, and that is quite a serious problem, isn’t it?

Al Thani: I think the cooperation with the United States is long-standing, and it speaks for itself. There is good cooperation with institutions here in Washington

READ MORE: Saudi FM: Qatar must stop supporting Hamas, Brotherhood

Al Jazeera: So is the president irrelevant?

Al Thani: No, of course he is relevant. There is proof that Qatar is combating terrorism. In Riyadh, Qatar was commended when the president mentioned the Al-Udeid base and said the role of Qatar is crucial for the fight against terrorism.

Al Jazeera: Donald Trump hasn’t contacted the Emir of Qatar since all of this blew up?

Al Thani: Not at this moment. 

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Al Jazeera: You mentioned the airbase. Is that a point of leverage in negotiations?

Al Thani: Not at all. Our commitment to the United States is a solid commitment. Our commitment to our allies and to regional efforts is solid. This is not at all a question.

Al Jazeera: What leverage does Qatar have?

Al Thani: Our leverage is that we are open and we are not afraid to say that if there is something wrong, we will fix it. However, no one came to us and said there is something wrong.

Al Jazeera: Has there been demands to kick out Hamas? Or close down Al Jazeera?

Al Thani: Our engagement with Hamas is an engagement in the context of the peace process. That’s very important to clarify. In order to start negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians, first we need to have reconciliation between the Palestinians themselves. And this is being done in coordination with the United States.

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Al Jazeera: What do you think of the timing of all of this? Why now?

Al Thani: It came as a shock and a surprise.

Al Jazeera: Did Donald Trump perhaps embolden the Saudis to take this action?

Al Thani: Until we really know what their requests are, I cannot comment on that.

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Al Jazeera: It was reported in the Financial Times that there was a ransom paid for an abducted hunting party in Iraq. US$700m goes to Iran and Shia militias, and US$300m goes to al-Qaeda-linked groups. 

Al Thani: That is not true. The efforts were by the Qatari government, in coordination with the Iraqi government. No ransom went to militias. Again, all of this is based on fabrications.

We have to take into consideration the evolution of these fabrications. There was a campaign, starting in Washington, DC, against the State of Qatar.

Al Jazeera: From the UAE? Who is driving this? 

Al Thani: I really don’t know who is driving this campaign. But there is no doubt that there is a campaign against Qatar. Not only in Washington, DC, but in our region as well after the cyber-attack on the Qatar News Agency (QNA). I don’t know who is behind this, but for sure, recent events in Washington, DC, and hacking of the emails of the ambassador of the UAE – [interrupted]

Al Jazeera: Do you think the Russians are behind this as has been reported by some channels?

Al Thani: The QNA hacking is still under investigation. I wouldn’t come to a conclusion on it. But if I may, going back to the hacking of the UAE ambassador’s emails – surprisingly it shows there is a sentiment against Qatar.  

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Al Jazeera: Where is the room for compromise? It seems the Saudis and the UAE have a great deal of leverage on their side. Not least because of the geographical position of Qatar.

Al Thani: Again, there have been no requests yet. I would like to talk about, as you mentioned, our relations with Iran. Our relations with Iran is in line with the GCC. There is nothing out of the ordinary with Iran. It is a neighbouring country.

In terms of the Muslim Brotherhood, the state of Qatar has reiterated many times that there is no support to them. Unfortunately certain parties don’t want to believe that.

How damaging are the email leaks from the UAE ambassador to the US?

Al Jazeera: Is there an endgame here from the Saudis? We have long heard that perhaps they want to get rid of the royal family of Qatar. Replace them with someone else?

Al-Thani: The royal family of Qatar has a very solid relationship with the people of Qatar. And that’s what matters. Other than that, Qatar is open to discuss any issues that our brothers in the GCC feel – [interrupted]

Al Jazeera: So you could shift some of these position within the GCC on Iran or the Muslim Brotherhood or Hamas or Al Jazeera?

Al-Thani: As I told you, we can shift any position if we believe that this is the wrong position, and if the parties would sit with us and convince us that we are wrong.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Source: Al Jazeera