What Tillerson Got Wrong And What Le Drian Got Right On Qatar – OpEd


By Faisal J. Abbas*

France decided to try its hand at resolving the Qatar crisis by offering to speak to officials in Doha and representatives of the Anti-Terror Quartet (ATQ) in Jeddah. Any attempt to help resolve this matter is — and should be — welcome, as nobody benefits from a weakened and boycotted Qatar, just like we all lose if Doha does not stop supporting terror.

But unlike efforts by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, his French counterpart, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, seems to have the wisdom to not try to reinvent the wheel. Le Drian preceded his arrival to Jeddah with a statement declaring that France wants to listen to all sides, but will only seek to support the mediation efforts led by Kuwait.

This marks a significant difference to the approach of Tillerson, who seems to have unilaterally signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Qatari officials, who committed to stop supporting and funding terror. While this was definitely fast-tracked by the pressure applied by the ATQ, and represents a public admission of guilt on Doha’s part, there are a few issues that may hinder his efforts.

First, Tillerson does not seem to be on the same page as his own president, who has been extremely hawkish on Qatar and described it as a historic funder of terror at a very high level. Second, Tillerson does not seem to have consulted in advance with the ATQ countries. Finally, the contents of the Qatari-US MoU were not made public.

The final point will form a serious credibility challenge, as this is not the first time Qatar has signed a treaty on which it fails to deliver. Tillerson may not know this, or assume that Doha will live up to its word this time. But Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah would not share the same view, and would have dealt with the matter differently.

I say that because the emir — who has a long history in diplomacy and a deep, genuine interest in not seeing the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) fail — himself spearheaded the mediation attempts with Qatar during the 2013/2014 stand-off.

He is very aware of the Qatari violations of the agreements that ended the crisis at the time, and of the particulars of the ATQ’s ongoing grievances. He has maintained a neutral position, and can play an advisory father-figure role to Qatar’s young emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani. All this makes Kuwait the only suitable candidate to help resolve the current crisis.

So where do France, the US, Germany or any other international player come in? There is definitely a role for the international community to play; all concerned countries should follow in France’s footsteps and support Kuwait’s bid to resolve the matter.

Furthermore, these countries can convince Doha to hand over internationally wanted terrorists, particularly those who are Qatari nationals (many of them are not on the ATQ’s list, but on US or UN terror lists). I am not sure why Qatar believes such action would undermine its sovereignty; on the contrary, it would enhance the country’s image as a law-abiding member of the international community.

Assuming Kuwait’s emir is successful, will relations between ATQ countries and Qatar ever return to pre-boycott levels? What is to become of cooperation levels within the GCC? This is diplomacy and international relations, not teenage dating.

We need only look at Europe to see there is definitely hope of enhanced relations, and even a union, once a set of principles and common ground are agreed upon. Otherwise Qatar may find itself facing a “hard Brexit” from the GCC. But unlike the UK, where such a harmful decision was a matter of choice, divorcing Doha will be a matter of no choice.

• Faisal J. Abbas is the editor in chief of Arab News. He can be reached on Twitter @FaisalJAbbas

Arab News

Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

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