Qatar’s envoy to Turkey slams sanctions, urges dialogue


Salem bin Mubarak Al Shafi, Qatar's ambassador to Turkey, spoke to Anadolu Agency about the ongoing political row between his country and several other Arab states.

Asserting that sanctions recently imposed on Qatar were totally baseless, Al Shafi said: "The entire episode began with the hacking [of Qatar's state news agency], but it later became a political struggle as a result of fake news."

"The sanctions on us have nothing to do with law, religion or morality," he said, going on to describe them as "self-destructive" to those who had imposed them.

On June 5, five Arab countries -- Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Yemen -- abruptly cut diplomatic relations with Qatar, accusing Doha of supporting terrorism without presenting any evidence of their claims.

Mauritania followed suit shortly afterward, while Jordan downgraded its diplomatic relations with Doha and closed the local office of Qatar's Al Jazeera satellite news channel.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain also closed their airspace to Qatari aircraft and gave Qatari diplomats 48 hours to leave their respective countries.

Riyadh has also sealed its land border with Qatar, geographically isolating the small Gulf peninsula.

Other countries to have recently cut diplomatic ties with Qatar include the Maldives and the Comoros Islands, along with Libya's Tobruk-based government, which supports putschist general Khalifa Haftar and which lacks any international recognition.

Qatar, for its part, strenuously denies accusations that it is a supporter of terrorism, describing moves to isolate it by its fellow Arab countries as "unjustified".

In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency, the ambassador said: "If we are proven wrong, we are brave enough to own up to our mistakes; we have the courage needed to sit down and talk about it."

He also criticized those Gulf countries that had imposed the sanctions, saying: "These sanctions on Qatar have not even been imposed on countries regarded as enemies."

Al Shafi stressed that Qatar would not be cowed by such political pressures, saying: "These sanctions will only serve to bolster our national unity and our commitment to our principles."

"Those who have tried to encircle us lost the moral high ground on the first day [of the sanctions] and lost the diplomatic war later," he said, pointing to calls by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to raise the ongoing blockade on Qatar.

"Following Tillerson's call, they [those countries imposing the sanctions] have tried to pull the wool over international community's eyes," Al Shafi said.

"We, as Qatar, plan to raise the issue with international institutions and organizations; we want a step-back away from these immoral approaches," he added.

Asserting that the countries now imposing the sanctions had tried to neutralize attempts at mediation from the outset, Al Shafi said: "Their attitude shows they are not in favor of dialogue or negotiation; this is apparent in their official statements."

He added: "They want to enforce their directives no matter what, which is absolutely unacceptable for Qatar."

"Qatar is ready for sincere and constructive dialogue. But first they must withdraw [the sanctions] as we cannot negotiate when a gun is being held to our head," he said, calling for a "better atmosphere" in which negotiations might eventually be held.

When asked about recent demands that all Qatari nationals immediately leave Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, the ambassador said: "The world has seen blockades, the cutting of diplomatic ties and aggression before, but the expulsion of human beings -- because of a political row -- is a first".

"This unethical and inhumane decision has affected thousands of families and is not in keeping with our Arab or Islamic values," he added.

Al Shafi noted, however, that despite the blockade, Qataris were having little problem meeting their everyday needs.

"Our Economy Ministry had already prepared for such a scenario, as Qatar experienced a similar incident -- from which it learned its lesson -- a few years ago," he said.

Qatari aircraft, he went on to assert, "continue to fly via Iranian and Turkish air routes".

Noting that Turkey and Qatar had enjoyed a degree of strategic cooperation -- and had constantly upgraded their bilateral relations -- since 2014, Al Shafi said: "Food and dairy products are being brought into Qatar on a daily basis, thanks largely to an air-bridge set up between Qatar and Turkey as soon as the crisis began."

He added: "We would like to thank Turkey's economy minister in particular for instructing Turkish officials to help meet the needs of our people."

Noting that Turkish efforts to come to Qatar's aid would strengthen relations between the peoples of both countries, along with economic, commercial and political ties, Al Shafi said: "Turkey is a sister country. Strategic relations -- based on honesty, trust, mutual respect and common interests -- will serve to bring us closer together."

"We appreciate Turkey's president, government, people and civil society for their unlimited support during this crisis," he added.

"We believe that the reasonable attitude shown by the Turkish president, prime minister and foreign minister is key to the stability of the entire Gulf region," the ambassador said.

Al-Shafi also asserted that the ongoing crisis in inter-Arab relations had served to undermine the common fight against terrorism and that "irresponsible steps" taken by certain parties threatened to further fuel terrorism and sectarian divisions in the region.

"We favor dialogue and negotiations and reject the oppression and sanctions that prevent Qatar from setting a foreign policy in accordance with our independence, sovereignty and national interests," he said.

"If those countries now imposing sanctions on Qatar would like to sit down and express their grievances, Doha is open to holding dialogue," Al Shafi added.

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