A crisis in the Persian Gulf showed no sign of abating Wednesday, after four Arab states announced they will continue — and perhaps escalate — their isolation of neighboring Qatar, which they accuse of supporting terrorism.
Foreign ministers from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates met in Cairo on Wednesday after a deadline expired on a list of demands they had imposed on Qatar.
The Saudi-led group announced no new sanctions but indicated that Qatar could be expelled from the Gulf Cooperation Council. They also said the blockade of ports and air space will remain in place, reports NPR’s Jane Arraf.
“We’re not doing this because we want to hurt Qatar, we’re doing this to help Qatar,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed al-Jubeir said as reported by the BBC.
While the roots of the rift are decades old and tied up in power struggles around oil and gas, the crisis came to a head last month when the four Arab nations announced they had severed ties and stopped trade with the tiny nation jutting into the Persian Gulf.
As The Two-Way reported, on June 22 the countries gave Qatar 10 days to comply with a list of demands including shutting down the Doha-based Al-Jazeera news network, severing ties with “terrorist organizations” and cutting ties with Iran.
What would happen after the deadline was unclear. It was extended by two days, at the request of Kuwait, which has been acting as a mediator, but more time provided little help.
“This list of demands confirms what Qatar has said from the beginning – the illegal blockade has nothing to do with combating terrorism, it is about limiting Qatar’s sovereignty, and outsourcing our foreign policy,” Sheikh Saif bin Ahmed Al Thani, director of the Qatari government’s communications office, said in a statement on Friday.
On Wednesday, Egypt’s foreign minister, Sameh Shukri said Qatar’s official response to the demands — which was not made public — was “negative” and “does not realize the gravity of the situation,” according to The Associated Press.
The consequences of the blockade are wide-reaching. As Jane reports, “the U.S. has a major military base in Qatar as well as Bahrain and this crisis has security and economic as well as political implications.”
On Wednesday, the White House released a statement saying that during his phone call with the Egyptian president, “President Trump called on all parties to negotiate constructively to resolve the dispute, and he reiterated the need for all countries to follow through on their commitments at the Riyadh Summit to stop terrorist financing and discredit extremist ideology.”
The group will meet in Bahrain to determine its next move. No date has been given for that meeting.