Meshal bin Hamad Al-Thani is Qatar’s ambassador to the United States.
Today is Day 18 of the diplomatic, economic and social blockade of Qatar by several of its Arab neighbors, and so far, no conditions for the lifting of the blockade have been presented to us. On Tuesday, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said: “The more time goes by, the more doubt is raised about the actions taken by Saudi Arabia and the UAE [United Arab Emirates]. At this point we are left with one simple question: Were the actions really about their concerns regarding Qatar’s alleged support for terrorism, or were they about the long-simmering grievances between and among the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] countries?”
Our government has maintained, from Day 1, that the blockade has nothing to do with the accusations that have been leveled against Qatar. The allegations that Qatar supports terrorism and that Qatar is a secret ally of Iran are, as the State Department suspects, just a smokescreen for an attempt to infringe upon Qatar’s sovereignty and punish Qatar for its independence.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE have portrayed their anti-Qatar campaign as an attempt to force Qatar to abandon its “support for terrorists,” though they know that we do not, have not and never will support terrorism. They know terrorism poses just as much of a threat to Qatar as it does to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and every other nation.
The second big lie in this smear campaign is that Qatar is a secret ally of Iran. The Saudis, the UAE and every government in the Gulf maintain diplomatic and trade relations with Iran. In fact, Iran’s biggest trading partner is the nation now leading the anti-Qatar blockade: the UAE. But more important, Qatar has been providing vital support to the opposition in Syria — which is battling against government forces allied with Iran.
Behind the smokescreen, we believe that the blockading nations are seeking to isolate and punish Qatar for our independence and to retaliate against us for supporting the true aspirations of people against tyrants and dictators.
There must always be a doorway to end discord, and Qatar has always believed that dialogue, negotiation and compromise are solutions to violence and conflict. We have fostered those discussions through an “open-door” foreign policy throughout our history.
Delegations from the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, Israel, the Taliban, the Muslim Brotherhood and representatives of Western governments have all sat at the negotiating table in Doha for peaceful discussions on the major issues confronting the Middle East. This open-door policy allows us to intercede on behalf of governments, such as the United States, that from time to time need to engage but have no communication channels of their own. Qatar has long been the region’s central negotiating table, and for that we will not apologize.
The blockading countries claim that our willingness to engage with these groups implies our support for their ideologies and agendas. It does not. In fact, our views are often diametrically opposed to the groups we host in Doha. One cannot find, let alone reach, the negotiating table if the door is closed.
The blockading countries are clearly seeking to drive a wedge between Qatar and the United States for their own political gain. Were it to succeed, this could have profoundly negative effects on efforts to combat the Islamic State and other threats in the region and around the world. As the Qatari government has made clear, and as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent remarks indicate, these countries will not succeed in diverting either the United States or Qatar from this critical mission.
As the U.S. government has made clear, American officials know that Qatar is a reliable ally and a strong partner for the United States, in good times and in bad. They know that we are an active participant in the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State and that we work closely with U.S. security agencies to identify suspected terrorists and interdict sources of terrorism finance. They further recognize the important role Qatar played in hosting Al Udeid Air Base at a time when other nations in the Middle East denied the United States a military presence on their soil.
Qatar’s policies are rational, moral and just, and our efforts to foster dialogue and oppose tyranny will lead to a better future not only for our people but also for the world. Qatar has the right to chart its own course, without the interference of other nations, and that is what we can and will do. The door to the negotiating table will stay open.