Qatar will not alter its relations with Iran and Turkey in a sign that it has made few concessions after securing a deal with Saudi Arabia and its allies to end a bitter dispute between the rival Gulf states.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, the Qatari foreign minister, told the Financial Times that Doha had agreed to co-operate on counter-terrorism and “transnational security” with Saudi Arabia and three other states that had imposed a regional embargo on Qatar. But he said “bilateral relationships are mainly driven by a sovereign decision of the country . . . [and] the national interest”.
“So there is no effect on our relationship with any other country,” he said in an interview.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cited Doha’s ties to Iran and Turkey, as well as its support for Islamist movements, as core reasons for their extraordinary decision in 2017 to cut diplomatic and transport links with Qatar.
The so-called “quartet” then submitted a list of 13 demands to Doha that included shutting down Al Jazeera, the Qatar-fund satellite TV network, curbing its relations with Iran, closing a Turkish base in the Gulf state, and halting all military co-operation with Ankara.
But after the rival states reached an agreement this week to resolve the crisis, Sheikh Mohammed also said there would be no changes to Al Jazeera. Doha’s foes have long accused the gas-rich nation of using the station’s Arabic-language channel as a mouthpiece to criticise other Gulf states and to stoke tensions in the region.
Qatar, which hosts the US’s biggest military base in the Middle East, repeatedly denied the allegations against it and refused to make any concessions.
The dispute was deadlocked until Saudi Arabia opened its land, sea and air border with its neighbour this week, amid the perception that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s day-to-day leader, wanted to resolve the rift to gain credibility with the incoming Biden administration in the US.
The other states are expected to follow suit after Gulf leaders, including Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, Qatar’s emir, signed a declaration intended to end the crisis at a summit in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.
“Hopefully within a week from the signing things should take the steps to come back to normal,” Sheikh Mohammed said.
He said all the states were “winners” in the wake of this week’s agreement, but acknowledged that it could take time for a full reconciliation.
Analysts believe the UAE in particular has been reluctant in regards to the rapprochement, partly because of Abu Dhabi’s concerns about Qatar’s growing relationship with Turkey. The UAE accuses Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan of meddling in Arab affairs and the power struggle between the two states intensified last year.
Sheikh Mohammed said he hoped the other nations involved in the Gulf dispute “will have the same political will as the Saudis, and they will find Qatar has political will to engage”.
“It will take some steps among the countries to rebuild the relationship . . . there will be differences, some outstanding issues that will be discussed bilaterally between the countries,” he said. “Each country has a different set of disagreements with Qatar.”
Sheikh Mohammed, who is also chairman of the Qatar Investment Authority, hinted at the possibility of the sovereign wealth fund investing in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states if the crisis ends.
“If there are opportunities that we see in the future, and we see a continuation of the political will of the countries to engage, we are very open,” he said. “The QIA is an investment fund that takes its decisions based on a commercial [basis] and the feasibility of the projects and I’m sure we have seen some ambitious plans in Saudi, and if we find opportunities over there, of course QIA will consider them.”
Saudi Arabia has been keen to attract foreign investment to back Prince Mohammed’s grandiose plans to modernise the kingdom and overhaul the oil-dependent economy.
Sheikh Mohammed added that Doha had agreed to suspend legal cases against Saudi Arabia and its allies, including lawsuits filed at the World Trade Organization and the International Court of Justice.
“When it comes to the proper timeline, then these legal cases should be closed,” he said.