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Interview
9 Jun 2020

Qatar’s Foreign Minister says Doha remains open to dialogue

Foreign Affairs News Desk
Foreign Affairs News Desk
Qatar's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani. Photo: Youtube.com
Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani. Photo: Youtube.com

On third anniversary of diplomatic crisis Qatar for new initiative to end imposed four Arab nations’ blockade; & says ready to meet each step forwards with 10 steps

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani has been the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs since January 27, 2016. Born on November 1, 1980 Mohammed graduated from Qatar University in 2003 and began to serve in the Qatari government in the various posts. From 2005 to 2009 he was the director of economic affair.He was named secretary of the personal representative of the Emir of Qatar for follow-up affairs in June 2010.Then after he was appointed the assistant foreign minister for international cooperation affairs in January 2014.But from January 2016 he has been serving in the post of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Recently, Al Jazeera had an interview with the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani focusing on the third anniversary day of the land, sea and air blockade imposed by three Gulf states (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kingdom of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates) in addition to the Arab Republic of Egypt cut diplomatic ties with the State of Qatar on Monday morning, June 5, 2017.

Following are excerpts:

Al-Jazeera: Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Rahman Al Thani, welcome. Three years have passed since the blockade was imposed on Qatar. Do you know the cause of the problem, the essence of the problem?

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani: Of course, if we look at the background of the blockade, we will find that the reasons behind  it  and  the circumstances  in  which  it  began,  we  will  find  a  campaign  of misinformation against the State of Qatar and an attempt to invent reasons for the blockade and  justify  it  to the  Gulf public  opinion in  particular and global public opinion in general.

Photo: Libyan Express

The second stage started with the hacking of Qatar News Agency, followed by a misinformation campaign against the State of Qatar and a campaign to demonize it. To this day, we do not find clear reasons for imposing this blockade, especially  that  the  relations  linking  the  State  of  Qatar  and  the  countries  of  the blockade in the period that preceded it were good and friendly.

There was continuous cooperation and dialogue between all the concerned states except for the problem that was raised by the UAE though its request to hand over the wife of the Emirati opponent two months before the blockade, and we did not expect that such problem would take us to such situation.

Al-Jazeera: you say two months, but in reality, Prince Turki Al-Faisal, the former head of Saudi intelligence, who was also an ambassador in Washington and London, says that the problem is much older and goes back to twenty years in fact, and that there were many warnings to you during that period. He says that the cause of the crisis  is  attributed  to  the  aspiration  of  the Qatari  leadership  to  play  a  role  in  the region, according to what it calls “its interests”. What is your comment?

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani: Of course, if the problem extends to twenty years as Prince Turki claimed in his interview, why wasn’t this problem solved during those twenty years when there were continuous dialogues and many statements from all Saudi officials about the depth  of  the  relationship  between  the  State  of  Qatar  and  the  Kingdom  of  Saudi Arabia?

Just a few days before the blockade and the online attack, the Saudi foreign minister was on a visit to the State of Qatar and addressed the Qatari Ambassadors Conference.  This  reflected  the  depth  of  the  relationship  between  Qatar  and  the Kingdom at that time.

His Highness the Amir, Sheikh Tamim, came to power in 2013, and the problems began only a few months after that without even knowing the Amir’s policy with withdrawing the ambassadors or the crisis of 2014, which led to the so-called Riyadh agreement that they violated.

Al-Jazeera: Have you been fully committed to this agreement?

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani: The  State  of  Qatar was  fully  committed,  and  all  the  records  of  the  Cooperation Council prove that. The commitment of the State of Qatar to the agreement and the violation of this agreement was clear from the measures that were taken by these countries, unfortunately. The Riyadh Agreement clearly provides for the settlement of  any  points  of  disagreement  through  a  dispute  settlement  mechanism,  and  this mechanism was not used, so why then are they talking about respecting the Riyadh agreement that they did not respect in the first place? 

Al-Jazeera: Regardless of the reasons, regardless of compliance or non-compliance with the Riyadh agreement, there is a reality now: three years of blockade, and there are many attempts to resolve this crisis, at least by the State of Kuwait. A Kuwaiti official came out more than once to say resolution is close, God willing. The latest of these statements was given two days ago in fact, when Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Sabah said  that there is  hope for resolving (what he called) Gulf differences. Is there anything new?

Photo: Global Village Space

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani: We hope that the resolution will be sooner than later. Of course, I would like at the outset to thank the State of Kuwait, led by His Highness Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad, for  assuming  this  responsibility  since  the  beginning  of  the  crisis,  despite  his preoccupations. He shouldered this responsibility by himself and came and visited the State of Qatar and the blockading countries at that time in an attempt to defuse this crisis, and his mediation continues to this day. There are continuous attempts by the sisterly State of Kuwait, which the State of Qatar highly appreciates and always responds to positively and constructively. Unfortunately, there is no clear roadmap to resolve this crisis until now. There are positive initiatives that we are evaluating, but the practical steps have not actually taken shape, and we hope that there will be practical steps not only for our sake but also for the sake of the Gulf Cooperation Council as an institution, the sake of our peoples and the sake of the regional security that was adversely affected by this blockade.

Al-Jazeera: Since you have talked about visits, there is a visit that you have made personally two week ago on 21 May to Amman and Kuwait on 20 May 2020, during Corona pandemic at the time no one can out, except for very important matter. You took the plane and took the risk, and you went to send a message! There is a curiosity regarding this visit, please do not tell me it is a routine visit or a visit for bilateral relations?

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani: Of course the visit that I have made to Kuwait, it was for a response to a message from His Highness Sheikh Sabah related to the crisis, and we went with the Qatari response which is always in line  with  having  a  constructive  dialogue  based  on  the  principles  that  respect  the sovereignty  and  international  law. Also constructive dialogue based principle of equality among nations. There are efforts, as I mentioned to you previously led by the State of Kuwait, and the United States is also working in this regard to solve the crisis, where the State of Qatar contribute on  it,  and  consider it a positive  and  a constructive way. We hope that these efforts will be fruitful one day and lead us to a solution. Till today there is no response from the other party.

Al-Jazeera: I mean, is there an initiative on the table?

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani: Yes, there is an initiative on the table, and there are positive atmospheres on this initiative, and we hope that this initiative will result in positive steps.

Al-Jazeera: With Saudi Arabia specifically, or with the Emirates, with who?

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani: We talked on golf crisis within the framework of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and with cooperation of the United States, and this was always the framework of our conversation.

Al-Jazeera: This time you will be a conservative, but last time there were more than one attempt, can we know the number of the serious attempts that actually led to a real dialogue?

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani: There was a dialogue between us and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which I referred at the end of last year. This dialogue was observed by public opinion such a dialogue that achieved some accomplishments, but unfortunately it stopped, not by the State of  Qatar,  but  from  the  Kingdom  of  Saudi  Arabia,  maybe  the  Kingdom  of  Saudi Arabia has reasons for that, but for us the reason was not clear, because the dialogue started in a positive and constructive way and it  suddenly stopped and we found escalating campaign. We hope that this time will not be a repeat such as previous times,  and  we  also  hope  that  there  will  be  more  seriousness  in  dealing  with  the initiatives laid on the table by the State of Kuwait and the support of United States.

Al-Jazeera: It is noticeable that you are the one who declare this attempt and the second party did not talk about it, and after that there was a tweet from Minister Anwar Gargash in which he says (this is another example where Qatar undermines the unity of Gulf States and wants incite disorder once again, while it talks about Saudi Arabia without talking about it us too?

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani: The is not a question about undermining the unity, if we are talking about whoever the unity of Gulf Cooperation Council, we must talk about the blockading countries that have attacked the State of Qatar from the beginning, and imposed blockade on the State of Qatar, its people. In addition, blockading countries politicized its people against  the  State of  Qatar,  as  well  as politicizing all  life aspects  against  State  of Qatar, therefore his accusation is wrong, because the State of Qatar doesn’t separate. 

The dialogue atmospheres in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia were positive and might lead to dialogue and we proceed as we said from the beginning that the State of Qatar is open to dialogue, and whoever move towards us one step, then we move forward him ten steps, but it must be a serious and sincere step.

Al-Jazeera: Do you deal with all blockading countries by the same way?

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani: by the same way.

Al-Jazeera: Are you keen to restore relations with all countries?

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani: We are keen on the unity of the Gulf Cooperation Council regardless of what happened. Today  everyone knows  Golf  crisis  harm  Gulf  Cooperation  Council  and  damaged  it  reputation, especially its reputation in front of its own people.

Al-Jazeera: Recently, there have been rumors that you will leave the GCC, Lulwa Al-Khater, spokesperson,  said  that  this  issue  is  not  correct  and  has  no  basis,  and Qatar  is  sticking  to  its  member  in  the  GCC.  What is the origin of the rumors? Especially, there are some Parties saying it is a test balloon, from your side, you launched the rumor, the you keep silent for about fifteen days, then you denied it?

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani:  We  do  not  need  a balloon test, we take our decisions and announce them, and therefore we talked about mobility, we speak with transparency before our people and in front of the whole world  when  there  were  positive  attempts  and  atmosphere,  we  talked  about  these rumors, and there is a general popular frustration towards the GCC and towards the effectiveness of the GCC, but this does not mean that the leadership in the State of Qatar views the GCC only as a platform for meetings, but we have a future vision, on  which  the  GCC  was  established  by  our  parents  and  grandparents,  today  who launched this rumor? Let’s see who has an interest in launching this? Who has an interest in getting the State of Qatar out of the GCC system? If the State of Qatar wanted to get out of the GCC system, it would have gone out in the days when the GCC as a system did not respond to the attack that took place at that time, in two thousand and seventeen.

Al-Jazeera: Next year, the age of the GCC will be approximately forty years of age. In his horizon do you see its future? What we wait from this council, to transfer three of its boycotting members, and there are some kind of question about what it offers in the future?

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani:  Of  course  there  are many  questions  about  the  GCC  and  its  effectiveness,  but  Qatar  behave  with responsibility, it will not be a reason to collapse the Council. On the contrary, we believe that we must take advantage of such challenges to strengthen this council.

The State of Qatar, when it gave solutions from the beginning, did not search for its advantage. Today we live naturally without relations with these States, whether it is with  Saudi  Arabia  or  with  the  UAE  or  with  Bahrain,  and  unfortunately  we  hear voices saying that this crisis does not concern us and we will live without Qatar. The issue  is  not  living  with  you  or  without  you,  we  are  interconnected  peoples.  We should think about our people and their future, and how we will deal with the region and its challenges in the future. We haven’t thought only about ourselves or only in the interest of the State of Qatar, in particular we said that the Council unfortunately have no role, but we are thinking about the future and we looked for a solution, we said this solution should be strengthening the GCC’s solution, a solution confirms that there will no recurrence crisis, not only with Qatar but with any other member of the Council, there must be  a civilized dialogue built upon it a  strong civilized institution that can respond to the aspirations of our people in this region. The issue is not bidding, or blockade. One,  two,  fifty  years  like  what  unfortunately  some officials from the blockading countries mentioned at that time, we say to them after a year or two, there are countries that are change, others developed, and others end or disappear, we must look at the issue with more responsible spirit.

Al-Jazeera: Well, if we want to look at this period in which there have been many developments before you talk about regional relations, let’s go back to a point related specifically to the United States. In the Arab street, there is an impression that the region  is  ordering  by  America,  especially  the  Gulf,  and  let  us  be  more  frank, including  Qatar,  and  that  if  Washington  says  it  is  time  to  reconciled,  we  will reconcile.  It  is  interesting  here  that  Trump  has  two  years  calling  for  Gulf reconciliation,  and  calls  on  the  blockade  countries  to  take  steps  towards  Qatar.

Regardless of his reasons, we know that Trump is not embarrassed to say things as they are, to embarrass those who have offended.  This is not his problem now, according to the latest words, according to ancient American newspapers. Trump is now striving to fix it for reasons related to the air embargo, for example, because there are planes now traveling over Iran, and this is in Iran’s interest. He wants to stop this matter that helped us to understand the equation here, the American’s role is challenging?

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani: Of course, first of all, there is no doubt that the United States has strategic relations with all the Gulf states, including the State of Qatar, which has a strong strategic relationship  and  cooperation  with  the  United  States  in  various  levels,  whether security, defense or economic levels, in energy in multiple fields. But that does not mean that the State of Qatar, and here I am talking only about the State of Qatar and I am not talking about the rest of the countries because I am not authorized to speak on  their behalf,  but  the  State  of  Qatar  by  virtue of this  strategic  relationship has discussions  and  dialogues  with  the  United  States,  but  these  discussions  do  not compel us to follow the orders of the United States. We may agree with them on views regarding specific files and disagree with them on others, but the disagreement is in a civilized way and is solved in a civilized way, too. Claiming that if the United States wants to end the crisis it can end it and if it wants to ignite the crisis it can ignite it, I think if this theory is correct then there is a bigger question: what are the countries that only link their future, the future of their peoples, the future of their region and create a crisis with a neighboring country just by order of another State and solve it again by order of another State? I think the biggest question here is what are these countries that are willing to ignite a crisis with the State of Qatar just by a   foreign order?  I do not think the issue is so.  The issue in particular is that the blockading countries have a fundamental dispute with the State of Qatar, as they want the State of Qatar to be a follower and be run according to the same political approach that they are adopting. We respect their political approach. Their point of view may be correct in some matters and may be wrong I others. Our view, as well, may be correct in some matters, and wrong in others, but we should respect each other.  The  State  of  Qatar  will  not  be  a  follower to  anyone  and  will  not  listen  to anyone’s dictates.

Al-Jazeera: In  a  statement  a  month  ago  at  a  symposium  with  Johns  Hopkins University, you said something remarkable, and enumerated reasons including the siege  of  Qatar  and  also  touched  on  American  relations  and  problems  between America and Iran, and you enumerated the role of Turkey in the region, Libya and Yemen, all these things push or put the region on the brink of an explosion?

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani: Correct, add the Corona Virus Crisis, which will also have social, economic and political impacts in the future.

Al-Jazeera: When you talk about an explosion, does it mean that you are talking about weeks, months or what?

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani: We cannot predict the period, but the region is experiencing this heat during all this period, which indicates- if there is no wisdom to find solutions to these problems- that an explosion will occur.  Therefore, we are seeking to make the language of wisdom and reason prevail so that these crises be contained and resolved, and crises are resolved only through civilized dialogues. If we look throughout the history of all wars and military confrontations, the two sides always come out with a loss and agreements are reached on the basis of settlements and not on the basis that there is a winner and there is a loser. Today, we say we are all losers in all these crises in the region, all sides are losers, but when will there be a language of reason and Wisdom for us to understand that we have lost enough and must look to the future?

Al-Jazeera: Let me ask you. A language of reason and wisdom versus this language of anger in social media, not only at the level of ordinary people, but also at the level of leaders, media professionals who got involved in, politicians and People from all spectra. There is anger and this unfortunately undermines the efforts sometimes and the  language  of  reconciliation,  the  language  of  reason  and  wisdom  that  you  are talking about?

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani: Unfortunately,  there  is  an  abuse  of  the  freedom  space  available  today  on  social media  platforms  as  we  see  it  today.  One of the main places for misusing    such freedom is found in the Arab world, specifically in the Gulf, where social networking has been mobilized in a systematic campaign against the State of Qatar to demonize the State of Qatar and which, unfortunately, created hatred towards the State of Qatar by the blockading countries. They used this weapon to mobilize people and stir regional and international opinion against the State of Qatar. 

Al-Jazeera: But, to be just there are some Qatari tweets that use the same language? 

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani: Please, let me just finish, there were some Qatari replies but I would not  say that other is wrong, all are wrong in stimulation the media and the social media in this way, but we should not forget that at the beginning of this campaign we noted many times”, do not involve the peoples in such campaign and do not involve the peoples in the hate speech,” but, unfortunately, we found laws that criminalize sympathy to Qatar and he who comes on the social  media and calls for the reconciliation between us his end might be unfortunate. Unfortunately, we found tweets from the Emirate crossed  the  boundaries  and  excessively  insulted  women  who  were  considered  a redline to us, not only for our society but also the Gulf societies, the Arab and the International  community  in  general,  there  are  such  attacks  on  women  in  this disrespectable manner and in such a way we didn’t see in the Gulf States before. We used to think that such matters will not emerge in the Gulf Countries in any day, unfortunately, we find that it is becoming less than normal.

Al-Jazeera: In your opinion, how can such anger and bitterness caused be contained when redlines are crossed in such a way?

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani: The responsibility comes from the leadership and the behavior comes from the leadership if the leadership enacts the behavior that deals with the issue with responsibility and freely, then all will behave is such a way, and if the leadership permits this, everyone will respond to it.

Al-Jazeera: The media of all the parties is accused of leading a fierce campaign?

Photo: Libyan Express

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani: The media is polarized, and unfortunately the situation we live in especially in the Gulf, is a situation of sharp polarization between different media but I would not say this because of Al-Jazeera, Al-Jazeera is part of this polarization, and when I compare Al-Jazeera with other channels in the region I would say, at least Al-Jazeera contributed in the Polarization but in a more professional way from others. Other channels report false news, they report  false  and distorted news  and  this  role  is  a  negative  and  destructive  to  our communities in the future.

Al-Jazeera: I would like to conclude with a question, maybe it is personal. You had taken the responsibility of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs one and half years before this crisis started. I think, if I might say, you were thrown into deep water, did you think this crisis would last long i.e. the whole of this period?

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani: When I was honored by H. H. The Emir to take over the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the directives of H. H. were clear, that the priority for us relations wise, is to develop and enhance the Gulf relations and as this crisis has come suddenly and also by the creation of reasons, the extend of the period is a surprise to us but after three years if we talk,  we  would say  we have been used to this pattern of behavior which is not excepted, we always expect anything and call for the wisdom to prevail, what always  make  me  feel  hurt  after three years  is  the  volume  of  polarization of our peoples  in  the  region,  it  is  something  unbelievable,  I  cannot  tolerate  the  moral downfall I see in the social media because of this crisis, this thing affects us,  affects our future and the future of the coming generations.   

Al-Jazeera: Thank you your Excellency the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheik. Mohammed bin Abdul Rahman Al-Thani so much for this meeting and thank you our honorable viewers for follow up of today’s meeting. 

(This interview was aired on Friday June 5, 2020 in Al Jazeera Television on third anniversary day of diplomatic crisis with the State of Qatar–made available with kind cooperation of the Embassy of the State of Qatar in Kathmandu and reprinted for information to interested general-mass with credit and kind courtesy)

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