Sheikh Tamim takes Gulf crisis to global audience

Qatar’s emir appeals to world leaders before meeting US President Trump on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

United Nations, New York City – Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani used the pulpit of the UN General Assembly to attack the four neighbours that have imposed a blockade against it, accusing them of “terrorism”-like behaviour. 

Sheikh Tamim also met privately US President Donald Trump at the annual diplomatic session in New York on Tuesday as Qatar sought to win international support in its 106-day-old spat with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt.

The emir blasted the “unjust blockade” as a “betrayal” from his neighbours that had ultimately failed to bring “Qatar to its knees and to capitulate to a total tutelage to be imposed on it”.

The blockade aimed to pressure Qataris via “foodstuffs, medicine and ripping off consanguineous relations to force them change their political affiliation to destabilise a sovereign country,” he said in a 22-minute address from the UN’s iconic marble rostrum.

“Isn’t this one of the definitions of terrorism?” Sheikh Tamim asked.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke in the same UN session after Sheikh Tamim and showed support for Qatar in a wide-ranging speech. 

Erdogan called for the lifting of “sanctions negatively affecting the living conditions of the Qatari people” and urged the region’s “elder brother” Saudi Arabia to “show sincere will for the resolution of the issue”.

Sheikh Tamim-Trump meeting

Trump initially sided with the Saudis and called Qatar a “funder of terrorism” but has since worked to broker a way out of the crisis and in his meeting with Sheikh Tamim on the sidelines of the General Assembly on Tuesday renewed his vow to help solve the crisis in the Gulf. 

“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,” Trump told reporters before the meeting, adding that he has a “strong feeling it will be solved pretty quickly”. 

Sheikh Tamim reiterated Doha’s call for dialogue and thanked the US president, noting that Washington’s “interference will help a lot”.

Sheikh Tamim was flanked by Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani and other Qatari officials; the US delegation included Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Advisor HR McMaster, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and others.

Trump told Sheikh Tamim that he believes the crisis in the Gulf will be 'solved pretty quickly' [Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]
Trump told Sheikh Tamim that he believes the crisis in the Gulf will be ‘solved pretty quickly’ [Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt, cut ties with Qatar, the world’s biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas, on June 5, accusing it of supporting “terrorism” and cosying up to regional rival, Iran. Doha has denied the allegations as “baseless”.

On June 22, the group issued a 13-point list of demands, including the shutdown of Al Jazeera, limiting ties with Iran, and expelling Turkish troops stationed in the country as a prerequisite to lifting the blockade. 

Doha rejected all the demands, denouncing them as an attempt to infringe on Qatar’s sovereignty, while US-backed Kuwaiti mediation has failed to end the dispute.

For Sigurd Neubauer, a Middle East analyst, the Trump-Tamim meeting was a win for Qatar because it signalled that Doha has friends at the highest level in Washington despite being ostracised by its four US-aligned Arab neighbours. 

“Qatar wants to show that its bonds with the US are unbreakable. Washington wants to show that it doesn’t value its relationship with one Gulf country over another. It won’t point fingers at who started this crisis, it just wants it resolved,” Neubauer told Al Jazeera ahead of the meeting. 

“From Washington’s view, there’s a Kurdish referendum coming, Palestinian reconciliation, defeating ISIL, the Astana talks on Syria’s war and North Korea’s nukes. Whether Qatar has a wise foreign policy or not? That’s a different matter.”

READ MORE: Qatar-Gulf crisis – All the latest updates

Imad Harb, a research director at Arab Center Washington, DC think tank, agreed, but questioned whether the diplomatic flurry in New York “takes us anywhere” towards ending the crisis as “conditions are not right for reconciliation”.

The meeting will show Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and others that Trump has “changed his mind since the beginning of this crisis” and is no longer playing favourites among the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), of which Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE are members, Harb told Al Jazeera.

But that is not necessarily a game-changer for Saudi, the UAE and others, he said.

“From the beginning, they intended for regime changes and though it didn’t work, they haven’t disabused themselves of that idea.”  

Follow James Reinl on Twitter: @jamesreinl

Source: Al Jazeera