Gulf Feud Travels Across Atlantic as U.S. Issues Mixed Signals

  • Al Otaiba penned an op-ed in Wall Street Journal on Monday
  • Saudi-led alliance, Qatar wage rival media campaigns in U.S.

Fallout From Qatar Diplomatic Spat Examined

Qatar and its Saudi-led critics are taking their feud to the U.S., using the media to try to garner support for their side of a diplomatic crisis entering its second week 7,000 miles away.

Qatar. Doha. Skyline. (Photo by: EyeOn/UIG via Getty Images)

Firing the latest salvo, the U.A.E.’s ambassador to Washington wrote in the Wall Street Journal that Qatar shouldn’t be allowed to own landmarks and businesses in the U.S. and Europe while using the proceeds to finance extremist groups. Elsewhere, Qatari officials have appeared on U.S. networks, including CNN and CNBC, to deny the Saudi-led alliance’s accusations and to decry the blockade against the tiny nation.

Efforts to mediate a solution to the worst crisis in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council have been complicated by contradictory signals coming from the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, who expressed his support for the Saudi-led action even as his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for an easing of the trade blockade. Both sides are focusing on swaying U.S. opinion because it’s the only viable arbiter, said Sanam Vakil, associate fellow at Chatham House’s Middle East & North Africa Program.

“They are battling in the sphere of public opinion for unity and a clear American position, something I’m not sure they are going to get,’’ Vakil said. Though Trump seems to have sided with Saudi Arabia and its allies, he has also refrained from “either dialing down the conflict or escalating it” -- risking the spat developing into a long stalemate, she said.

Severing Ties

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain broke off relations with Qatar on June 5, citing its dealings with Iran and funding of Islamist groups -- charges the tiny sheikhdom has repeatedly denied. In turn, Qatar accuses the Saudis of seeking to dominate smaller neighbors.

Flying Cows to the Desert Is One Qatari’s Way to Beat the Saudis

The isolation has forced the world’s richest country on a per capita basis to open new trade routes to import food, building materials and equipment for its natural gas industry. It also triggered a rating downgrade of Qatar’s sovereign debt by S&P Global Ratings.

“Qatar cannot own stakes in the Empire State Building and the London Shard and use the profits to write checks to affiliates of al Qaeda,” the U.A.E.’s U.S. envoy Yousef Al Otaiba wrote in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Monday. Qatar “must take decisive action to deal once and for all with its extremist problem -- to shut down this funding, stop interfering in its neighbors’ internal affairs, and end its media incitement and radicalization,” he wrote.

Qatar hired former Attorney General John Ashcroft’s firm as its lobbyist to provide crisis response and management, media outreach and advocacy that stresses Qatar’s efforts to combat global terrorism, according to U.S. disclosures filed under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

‘Disappointed’

On Monday, Qatar Airways Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker told CNN he was “disappointed” by the U.S.’s stance in the dispute. The U.S. “should be the leader trying to break this blockade, and not sitting and watching what’s going on and putting fuel” on the fire, he said in an interview.

Qatari officials have generally struck a tone of defiance, with Foreign Minister Mohammed Al Thani expressing his government’s frustration on Monday at not receiving specific demands from the Saudi-led alliance -- which he said meant there was no basis for a diplomatic solution.

“Just as they have a right to accuse, we have the right to respond and the right to see the proof behind these allegations,” Al Thani told reporters in Paris in comments broadcast by Al-Jazeera.

After exhaustive efforts to “internationalize its crisis with its brothers,” Qatar will discover that the solution lies in Riyadh and with Saudi King Salman, U.A.E. Foreign Minister Anwar Garghash said on Twitter, in an apparent response to the comments from Qatari officials.

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