Two days ago, when previewing the showdown in the Qatar “diplomatic quagmire“, we reminded readers that “Qatar only has until July 3 to comply with the 10-day ultimatum of 13 demands imposed by the Saudi-led bloc”, a list which the Saudis described as non-negotiable, with Riyadh’s foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir saying Doha must “amend its behavior” or “remain isolated.”
Fast forward to just one day before the Saudi ultimatum expires, when Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed Al Thani said his nation is unwilling to concede to any demands that threaten its sovereignty or violate international law. The small but wealthy Gulf emirate said it was prepared “to let pass the deadline for complying with 13 demands set down by the bloc“, including shutting down Al Jazeera and cutting back ties with Iran, Al Thani said in Rome quoted by Bloomberg, where he met the Italian foreign minister.
“There is no fear from our direction. We are ready to face the consequences,” Al Thani said. “There is an international law that should be respected and not violated.”
And while Al Thani repeated that Qatar is willing to sit down and negotiate under the right circumstances, he repeated that the ultimatum issued June 23 was made to be rejected.
As a reminder, nearly a month ago, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the U.A.E and Egypt severed commercial, diplomatic and financial links with Qatar saying they were isolating the sheikdom over what they see as its tolerant attitude to Iran and support for Islamist groups, which is ironic since Saudi Arabia is widely acknowledged as the world’s premier supporter of offshore terrorism. The group’s demands also include Qatar severing relations with the Muslim Brotherhood and ending Turkey’s military presence in the country. On June 23, Qatar was given 10 days to respond.
Meanwhile, not mincing his words, Al Thani accused the blockading nations – it’s clear who he was referring to here – of themselves having ties to groups and individuals accused of terrorism.
“As for the countries that accuse Qatar of financing terrorism, they have the same problems as Qatar, more so, they are on top of the list in that area,” he said. “There are financial institutes in these countries involved in financing terrorist organization and financing terrorist operations in western countries.”
The coalition presented Qatar with its requirements to end the standoff after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged the Saudi-led bloc to lay out its demands. In a statement on June 25, Tillerson conceded that Qatar would find it “very difficult” to comply with some of the requests. On June 27, during a visit in Washington, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir called the demands non-negotiable.
As previewing the outcome of the ultimatum, earlier this week Citi said that unless the demands are met by July 3 “then this situation is likely to get a lot worse before it gets any better.”
Meanwhile, Citi added, there has been a continued lack of reaction from ‘the West’: there is also confusion as to the stance of key historical players in the Middle East, such as the UK and the US, who have either said very little – Trump once called Qatar a “haven for terrorism”, while Rex Tillerson has twice upbraided Saudi Arabia’s approach. Last Friday, a White House spokesman told the Guardian: “The United States is still accessing the list and we are in communication with all parties. As we have said, we want to see the parties resolve this dispute and restore unity among our partners in the region, while ensuring all countries are stopping funding for terrorist groups.”
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And while the US is still trying to decide on whose side it wants to be in the ongoing conflict, Russia wasted no time and as Reuters reported yesterday, Russian President Vladimir Putin had telephone discussions with the leaders of Qatar and Bahrain, stressing the need for diplomacy to end the dispute between Qatar and several other Arab states.
Moscow is trying to tread cautiously in the dispute, since it wants good relations with both Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Russia backs President Bashar al-Assad in the six-year-long Syria conflict and is close to Iran, which has fraught ties with the Saudis.
Moscow sold a stake in its state oil champion Rosneft to Qatar last year and has been coordinating oil output cuts with the Saudis as part of a global pact to lift oil prices.
The Kremlin, which announced the phone calls with the leaders of Qatar and Bahrain in two separate statements on its website on Saturday, did not say when they happened. It clarified that they happened on the initiative of Qatar and Bahrain.
“Vladimir Putin stressed the importance of political-diplomatic efforts aimed at overcoming differences of opinion and the normalization of the difficult situation that exists,” said the statement on the talks between Putin and Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.
And the punchline: “the Russian and Qatari leaders also discussed cooperation between their countries in energy and investment.” In other words, as the Gulf region copntinues to split itself apart, and the strategic role of the US in the region remains unclear, Russia is more than happy to step in and fill whatever power void has been created. We look forward to Russian hacker being blamed for yet another tactically prudent and rational move by the Kremlin.