Arab states that have cut ties with Qatar held talks in Egypt on Wednesday to discuss their next move in the Gulf diplomatic crisis, as Doha called for dialogue to resolve the dispute.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry welcomed his counterparts from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain for the talks at a ministry building in central Cairo, a month after the countries severed ties with Qatar, accusing Doha of supporting extremism.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Saudi foreign ministry said they had received Qatar’s response to their demands — which include Doha ending support for the Muslim Brotherhood and closing broadcaster Al-Jazeera — and would respond “at the right time”.
Saudi Arabia and its allies have not said what steps they could take next, but there are fears of a wider embargo that would hurt the Qatari economy, with credit ratings agency Moody’s announcing it was changing Qatar’s outlook to negative over the crisis.
The countries issued the 13-point list of demands on June 22, giving Qatar 10 days to respond. The deadline was extended by 48 hours on Sunday at the request of Kuwait, which is mediating in the crisis, and Qatar handed in the response on Monday.
The contents of the response have not been disclosed, but Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said Tuesday that the list of demands “is unrealistic and is not actionable”.
Qatar has denied any support for extremism and accused the countries of seeking to infringe on its sovereignty.
The other demands include Qatar downgrading ties with Iran — Saudi Arabia’s regional arch-rival — and shutting down a Turkish military base in the emirate.
– Qatar urges dialogue –
Qatar has said repeatedly it is ready for talks on the crisis and Sheikh Mohammed on Wednesday repeated that Doha is ready for dialogue.
“We welcome any serious efforts to resolve our differences with our neighbours,” he told the Chatham House think-tank in London.
He accused Saudi Arabia and its regional allies of “demanding that we must surrender our sovereignty as the price for ending the siege”.
Riyadh and its supporters have severed air, sea and ground links with Qatar, cutting off vital routes for imports including food.
They also ordered Qatari citizens to leave their territories and took various steps against Qatari firms and financial institutions.
The crisis has raised concerns of growing instability in the region, home to some of the world’s largest energy exporters and key Western allies who host US military bases.
Energy-rich Qatar has been defiant throughout the crisis, insisting it can weather action taken against it.
On Tuesday it even announced a major boost in planned natural gas output, with Qatar Petroleum saying it would increase production to 100 million tonnes a year by 2024, up 30 percent from current levels.
– ‘Economic and financial risks’ –
Qatar is the world’s leading producer of liquefied natural gas.
Its energy riches have transformed Qatar into one of the world’s wealthiest countries, a major international investor and a regional player that will host the 2022 football World Cup.
Concern has been growing, however, that a drawn-out crisis could have an economic impact.
Moody’s said it was changing its credit rating outlook for Qatar to negative from stable, citing “the economic and financial risks arising from the ongoing dispute”.
“The likelihood of a prolonged period of uncertainty extending into 2018 has increased and a quick resolution of the dispute is unlikely over the next few months,” the agency said.
Some critics of Qatar have accused it of links to extremist organisations including the Islamic State group, Al-Qaeda and Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah movement.
But a British think-tank said Wednesday that foreign funding for Islamist extremism in Britain mostly originates from Saudi Arabia.
“While entities from across the Gulf and Iran have been guilty of advancing extremism, those in Saudi Arabia are undoubtedly at the top of the list,” Tom Wilson, a fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, a hawkish London-based foreign policy think-tank, said in a statement.
In a statement to the BBC, the Saudi embassy in London said the claims were “categorically false”.