The blockade of Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain represents an “existential threat to the very existence of the GCC,” says Lolwah R.M. Al-Khater, spokesperson for Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in an exclusive interview with Al-Monitor on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
Ms. Al-Khater expressed appreciation for the mediation of Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, the emir of Kuwait, adding that while there have been “many attempts” to resolve the dispute, although there were no such initiatives during the UN General Assembly last week.
The Qatari spokesperson was ‘very optimistic” about diplomacy in Afghanistan, saying, “As a mediator we went through ups and downs; however, the progress overall — if we compare it to the previous years — is excellent, and we think that there is a good prospect in the very near future to resume this process.”
Al-Khater welcomed the partial cease-fire in Yemen this week, and noted that Qatar has been active in addressing the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, “through the UN, through UNICEF, through other Qatar-based entities such as Silatech, which is dedicated to empowering the youth and women through microloans, microprojects, etc.”
Qatar’s aid to Yemen has totaled $540 million since 2012, according to Qatar’s Foreign Ministry.
“There isn't a military solution to the Yemeni question,” Al-Khater added. “There can only be a political solution to this, and we hope that this happens sooner rather than later for the sake of the Yemeni people.”
On the regional security initiative presented by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani this week, Al-Khater said it is at a “very early stage,” adding that “what we take from this is the willingness, hopefully, from their side to engage in a meaningful conversation.”
“We remain ready to facilitate any process, “ she added, “should, of course, the parties want to engage in such a process, in order to de-escalate the situation.”
Andrew Parasiliti conducted this interview for Al-Monitor. A lightly edited transcript of the full interview follows:
Al-Monitor: So in his speech to the General Assembly, Sheikh Tamin bin Hamad Al Thani, emir of Qatar, spoke of the need to end the blockade. Has there been any diplomacy this week with the four Arab countries — Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain — about this matter?
Al-Khater: Thank you so much, Andrew. The Kuwaiti negotiation is still on and we appreciate that. There have been many attempts, even very recently. However, in terms of any interaction during the UNGA specifically, there hasn’t been any progress regarding the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Countries] crisis itself.
And it's interesting, because we have met, for example, under the umbrella of MESA [Middle East Strategic Alliance] with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, with the foreign minister of Iraq, the foreign minister of Jordan and the six GCC countries. So it's very, very interesting that, you know, the blockading countries — especially the GCC blockading countries — are willing to sit down under other umbrellas, but not under the GCC umbrella, to resolve what is an existential threat to the very existence of the GCC.
Al-Monitor: Qatar hosted the talks between the US and the Taliban. How do you assess the current situation, and what do you believe should be the next steps for diplomacy?
Al-Khater: We remain very optimistic. As a mediator, we went through ups and downs. However, the progress overall, if we compare it to the previous years, is excellent, and we think that there is a good prospect in the very near future to resume this process.
Al-Monitor: And what is Qatar's position on Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's Regional Security Initiative and the present crisis with Iran more broadly? Qatar maintains very good relations with both the United States and Iran.
Al-Khater: In terms of the initiative itself, we read it, just as you read it. It's still a very early stage to talk about a comprehensive initiative. However, what we take from this is the willingness, hopefully, from their side, to engage in a meaningful conversation.
And this is a good segue to talk also about the US in this case, because the US, despite all what has happened, seems to be, in general, willing to engage at one point of time.
And for us in the region, not only Qatar — but other countries in the region as well that don't want to see a military confrontation — we remain ready to facilitate any process, should, of course, the parties want to engage in such a process, in order to de-escalate the situation.
Al-Monitor: And final question, Saudi Arabia agreed to a partial cease-fire in Yemen. Qatar has been active in humanitarian relief efforts there. Tell us a little about your projects in Yemen and how you see the situation evolving.
Al-Khater: As you rightly say, Andrew, Qatar continues to do humanitarian work in Yemen. Unfortunately, this has been hindered since the beginning of the blockade on June 5, 2017, because the coalition wouldn't allow some of the other NGOs and charities to continue their projects. However, through the UN, through UNICEF, through other Qatar-based entities such as Silatech, which is dedicated to empowering the youth and women through microloans, microprojects, etc. All of these entities collectively work together in order to ensure that the humanitarian aid for Yemen reaches the Yemeni people.
And in terms of the partial cease-fire, we welcome any step that could alleviate the very drastic humanitarian conditions that the Yemeni people live under. There isn't a military solution to the Yemeni question. There can only be a political solution to this, and we hope that this happens sooner rather than later for the sake of the Yemeni people.