Germany’s foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel warned that the ongoing isolation of Qatar by Saudi Arabia and its allies could lead to a war in the Gulf region, according to an interview he gave to Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, although he added that he still saw a chance to defuse the tension.
“There is a danger that this dispute could lead to war,” Gabriel said citing what he called a “dramatic” harshness in relations between allied and neighbouring countries in the Gulf.
The foreign minister said personal talks this week with his counterparts from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, and phone calls with the foreign ministers of Iran and Kuwait underscored his concerns.
“After my talks this week, I know how serious the situation is, but I believe there are also good chances to make progress.”
Gabriel also said that he had a phone conversation with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on the Gulf situation on Friday and said that Tillerson showed a “very wise and prudent attitude” that has contributed to calming the conflict.
Yet while Tillerson was “calming” the conflict, during a press conference on Friday Trump appeared to be adding fire to it, when the president accused Qatar of being a “high level” funder of terrorism even as the Pentagon and Tillerson cautioned against the military, commercial and humanitarian effects of a blockade imposed by Arab states and others.
As expected, on Saturday Saudi Arabia and Bahrain welcomed Trump’s demand for Qatar to stop supporting terrorism, but did not respond to a U.S. Department of State call for them to ease pressure on the Gulf state. After severing ties with Qatar on Monday, Saudi Arabia said it was committed to “decisive and swift action to cut off all funding sources for terrorism” in a statement carried by state news agency SPA, attributed to “an official source”.
In a separate statement issued on Friday, the United Arab Emirates praised Trump’s “leadership in challenging Qatar’s troubling support for extremism”.
A separate SPA report on Saturday acknowledged Tillerson’s call for Qatar to curtail support for terrorism, but did not mention his remarks that the crisis was hurting ordinary Qataris, impairing business dealings and harming the U.S. fight against the Islamic State militant group. Saudi Arabia said its action followed the conclusions of last month’s Arab Islamic American Summit in Riyadh, where Trump delivered a speech about Islamic extremism.
Trump said he helped plan the move against Qatar, although a senior administration official told Reuters earlier this week that the U.S. had no indication from the Saudis or Emiratis during the visit that they would sever ties with Qatar.
Meanwhile, adding further fire to the situation, on Saturday Turkish President Recep Erdogan vowed to continue supporting Qatar. “Now, there are ones who are bothered because of us being together with our Qatari brothers or sending and exporting food supplies, drugs etc – no matter if they are in hunger or thirst – should excuse us. We will continue to give all our support to Qatar,” Erdogan said at an iftar (fast-breaking meal) with members of his AK Party in Istanbul, quoted by RT.
Echoing Tillerson, the Turkish urged Saudi Arabia, as “the largest and most powerful state in the Gulf,” to reduce tensions and lift sanctions. “It is wrong to add more troubles on top of everything in the term that the Muslim world is already struggling with a lot of problems,” he said. “I am calling you: There won’t be any winners in the brother’s fight.”
“You have to work for bringing brothers together. This is what we expect from Saudi, the Custodian of the Holy Mosques [in Mecca and Medina],” Erdogan added.
Separately, Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Erdogan, who met with Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Bin Al Khalifa in Istanbul on Saturday, said a solution to the dispute needs to be found by the end of the month of Ramadan.
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Also on Saturday, Moscow – where Qatar’s foreign minister met with his Russian colleague – called for dialogue between Qatar and its neighbors in the Gulf, promising help in mediating the crisis, as Russia’s foreign minister met his Qatari counterpart.
“We have observed with concern the news of this escalation,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in opening remarks of his meeting with Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani in Moscow.
“We cannot be happy in a situation when the relations between our partners are worsening. We are in favor of resolving any disagreements through… dialogue.”
Lavrov said that Russia is “ready to try to do everything in its power” to help resolve the crisis and said unity is needed to fight terrorism. “For us, unity is clearly necessary for maximum effect on this front (against terrorism),” he said.
Qatar has denounced the allegations against it, and Al-Thani during his meeting with Lavrov called the measures against the country “illegal.”
Finally, speaking of last week’s CNN report which alleged that Russian hackers helped spark the crisis but Moscow has dismissed this as a “stale claim” with “zero evidence.”