Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said that 90% of Qatar’s exports head to Asia, stressing the importance of the Asian market to the State of Qatar.
In an interview with the American TV Channel “CNBC”, the Foreign Minister said that ASEAN countries are 50% of Qatar’s market, so there is a continuous dialogue with the Asian countries which with Qatar is hoping to improve and develop the relationship and use the potentials in this relationship.
As a result of this relationship, the Foreign Minister noted dramatically increased investments in the last few years in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, China. So Qatar investments are widespread in this region in Asia which represents a very high importance for Qatar.
Al-Thani said that Singapore has a special status with Qatar because of the high level of joint committee between the two countries. There has been a cooperation for 12 years, where more than 46 enterprises have been realized out of this joint committee, including two of the major environmental projects in Qatar which were conducted as a result for this committee. So there is a lot of progress and a lot of work between Qatar and the Asia region, Southeast Asia especially.
On the other hand, Al-Thani said that since the beginning of the Gulf crisis, the State of Qatar has dealt with high morals and will never seek to pressure any country, on the contrary, Saudi and the blockading countries were trying to exercise whatever kind of leverage they have on the countries especially in Africa and some countries of Southeast Asia, which Qatar sees as a blackmailing for nations and trying to impose something on their sovereignty, which it does not accept.
The countries which decided to join their club without any support for the arguments, this is something up to them but it really means that those countries are not having their full control over their decision making process. No country can impose any demands or anything on another sovereign nation, so they have their own assessment and they have to decide whether Qatar is a country which is a reliable partner that they can work with, or Qatar is a country which is a source of disturbance for them, HE the Foreign Minister added.
Regarding the continuous statements and allegations from the Saudis and from the other blockading nations toward Qatar which has never been proven, Al-Thani said, “this is something which is all of us are against. This is something which is related to the collective security of our region, which is a priority for Qatar, as it’s priority for them,” noting that just throwing those allegations without even any evidence, is just showing inconsistency in their behavior and that they do not want to solve this issue.
“They started the entire issue, the entire crisis with a cyber-attack. This cyber-attack was to create a foundation for the crisis. So if there was a real justification for this crisis they wouldn’t need to attack our state news agency, to put a fabricated statement attributed to the HH the Emir of Qatar in order to launch this campaign. So we are still calling them if you have any allegations, if you have anything any concerns need to be addressed by Qatar we are willing to sit on the table. Show us your concerns if there is something which needs measures being taken, it should be taken by Qatar and by other countries because it’s a collective concern for everyone,” the Foreign Minister added.
Answering a question about Saudi denial that a cyber-attack was behind this issue, Al-Thani said: “their denial actually is not true because we were just in Riyadh two days before the cyber-attack. Why none of them has raised any concern? Before that even a few days we were also in Riyadh at the GCC Ministerial Council. They never raised any concern about any issue. We were talking about regional issues. We were discussing the future of the GCC and none of them has raised any of those issues and those allegations”.
Al-Thani said that since the beginning of this crisis which is taking more than four months, everybody realizes that Qatar wants to have a solution for this, “because we see that there is no winner out of this, we have a lot of other challenges in our region, and we don’t need a further crisis to the other open war zones”.
“All our allies and friends want a solution for this crisis, including the United States, even the president of the United States was calling to bring the leaders together in order to put an end for this crisis. HH the Emir of Kuwait was leading the mediation, and he’s continuing his efforts, two days ago he was in Riyadh, but there is no result yet, which demonstrate a consistent intention from the blockading nations to continue the crisis, disrespect and bully,” the Foreign Minister added.
Answering a question on Saudi Arabia looking at ways to bring about regime change in Qatar, Al-Thani said: “we see that there are officials and government officials talking about regime change. When we see their government officials inciting people to protest against our government, so it’s about regime change. We see a country which is bringing back the Dark Ages of tribes through creating a pressure on tribes linked to other tribes inside Qatar. That means that they want to destabilize this country, and so they are not willing for a solution. They are into escalation, they are into thinking about regime change and other things. But from Qatar’s side we were always calling for dialogue, and that if there is any concern, we are going to address”.
Al-Thani added, “since the beginning of the crisis and based on our assessment we have seen that there were some possibilities for military activity, whether its invasion or intervention or maybe by different means. Our allies in the United States as well as the Emir of Kuwait have been active from the beginning, trying to calm down the situation. Everybody worked collectively in order to deescalate the situation and to resort to dialogue rather than going for escalation. The way they are dealing with the entire matter is just showing irresponsibility to the region and to regional security”.
Al-Thani underlined that the United States is a reliable ally and has very strong relations with Qatar, noting that the State hosts more than 11,000 US soldiers, in addition to the largest US base in the Middle East, which make it necessary for the United States and Qatar to work together to ensure stability in the region, and make it necessary for both sides to be reliable allies to each others.
Asked if he thinks the US president and the secretary of state are aligned on the matter, Al-Thani said that since the beginning of the crisis the US president has called for the need to deal with situation by dialogue and spoke on this matter with HH the Emir, as well as the different government agencies. The Defense Department and the State Department were always advocate for the solution of dialogue.
“So we didn’t see a mixed message. This is something not relevant to us. What is really concern us is the overall US policy toward this crisis, which has been consistent from the beginning of the crisis to put an end to it and to solve it by dialogue,” the Foreign Minister noted.
Al-Thani said that the US president was very much into the situation and he was speaking very seriously about that. He is very confident that he could help bring about a resolution very soon in the coming days, weeks even. He doesn’t want to see this conflict prolonging, but from the other hand there is no positive response from the blockading nations. “We are hopeful that things will reach to a solution and we will come to dialogue. And also we are confident that the US can play a strong role and President Trump can play a positive role in this and in bringing all the leaders together”.
Al-Thani said that the Gulf crisis affected the battle against ISIS, noting that 90% of food and medicine supply is coming through the land border and part of those supplies go to the military base.
“Our airspace was blocked. The Qatari airplanes which provide logistic support for the military are not allowed to fly over their skies except Iran. Also, our officers who were participating in the coalition activity and the Fifth Fleet have been expelled. So there are a lot of things which undermine the global efforts in countering the ISIS because of this crisis and the blockade and the measures imposed on Qatar,” he added.
Talking about the impact of the US military’s recent announcement that it’s going to suspend some drills with Gulf allies, and may be going to put a freeze on some weapon sales and arms sales to Gulf allies, and if that would that be enough to bring the parties to the table to talk, the Foreign Minister said: “we are hopeful that they don’t need to do all those measures to bring the parties to the table. We hope that wisdom will prevail”.
“But what we have seen for the last four months a consistent systematic behavior of disrespect and bullying. They do whatever they want despite the demands. We hope that at the end they will come to dialogue and we hope that they come at the right time. They just keep pushing it away in order to make Qatar weaker, but Qatar became much stronger than it was before the blockade,” the Foreign Minister added.
Asked if the reason that Saudi Arabia may not be coming to table is Qatar’s relations with Iran, Al-Thani underlined that this accusation is entirely baseless, noting that Qatar has differences in policies with Iran, but not with Iran as a state. However, the Gulf countries have agreed on a common policy toward Iran. The policy stipulates that Iran does not export its revolutionary ideology or harm security. This policy is clear and Qatar is committed to it, and its policy towards Iran itself has not changed because of the crisis.
Al-Thani said that they were trying to create just a justification to legitimize their blockade. “Our restoration to our diplomatic relations with Iran doesn’t mean that Qatar change its policy because we will go back to the reason, the real reason of our withdrawal of our ambassador was just a gesture of solidarity with the Saudis after the attack on their diplomatic mission, which is not exist anymore because we cannot show solidarity to a country which blockaded our people. We are neighbors with Iran. We have borders together. We are sharing a gas field together. We have to overcome and bridge the gaps in our differences by dialogue. We cannot increase the tension in the region. We have to resort to dialogue,” the Foreign Minister underlined.
Meanwhile, Al-Thani added: “there is absolutely no support to Iran. Qatar and Iran have very consistent relationship since long time. We have differences, we are opponents in what’s happening in Syria. We are opponents in what’s happening in Yemen, we are opponents in what’s happening in their policies in Iraq. We are adversaries in those different political battles, we were and still first voice against Bashar al Assad regime. So there is nothing being changed about our policy”.
“The US has its own policy towards Iran and it is thousands of miles away from Iran, but we are neighbors. Now after this blockade, if we have just one pathway from the north toward Iran and the three other sides east west and south are blocked, how can I assure the food supply for my country, how can I assure medicine supply for my country. And in fact the Emirates accounts for 96% of GCC bilateral trade with Iran. Qatar’s trade with Iran do not exceed more than 50 million dollars. So what kind of a special relation between Qatar and Iran?” the Foreign Minister said.
Asked about Saudi Arabia making Iran a big part of the issue, Al-Thani said that since the beginning of the crisis they have been talking about Iran. They have been talking about everything they believe that might give them legitimacy for what they did. They don’t want to appear before the Western country that they did this out of their desire to hijack the country’s policies and keep it under its guardianship, which is totally unacceptable.
On the agenda for his upcoming trip to Washington, and whether he will be meeting with the US secretary of state or other members of the administration, Al-Thani said that he will be following up on the last meeting which took place in September when was accompanying HH the Emir in his meeting with the US President, noting that he will be meeting some of the US officials as well as some of the congressmen and senators to follow up on matter.