A view from Qatar with Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani
Alberto Negri: Ladies and gentlemen, good morning. Thank you all for being here. Today we are proud to have with us Mr. Mohammed Al-Thani, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Qatar. Qatar is a tiny country, but is very influential. If you have the United Nations paper you can read that Qatar is the most advanced Arab country in the field of human development. It is a very rich country, and everybody knows it has huge gas reserves, and is very well known for its media network Al-Jazeera. Everyone knows what has happened in the last months, for example, Al-Jazeera offices were closed in many Arab countries, and many journalists were hit with this as we are for the freedom of press in every country. With me today, is David Hearst, a very distinguished journalist of Middle East Eye, is a very well-known connoisseur of the Middle East, and a fine analyst. Starting with our Foreign Minister, we would like to hear your point of view regarding the situation and the point of view of Qatar after the events of June 2017, when Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the Emirates, Egypt and other Arab countries cut off diplomatic relations with Doha. What happened and how is the situation now?
HE the Foreign Minister: First of all thank you Alberto and David for hosting me. I am very happy to participate in the 3rd edition of the MED conference, which is becoming a prominent platform in the Mediterranean region.
I think this year's theme talks more about the positive agendas and hope. Hope is missing in our region, the Middle East and the Mediterranean region, because of the connectivity between them. We need to diagnose the situation in order to provide the hope our people are looking for, achieve it and provide them with a realistic solution.
There is regional disorder in our region, that is mainly driven by the game of power. This game of power led to a power consolidation, whether its internally or regionally. All of what is happening, in terms of crises in this region, is part of this power game. We see that this power game has led us to a state of polarization, that isn't only happening in the region between countries which created proxy wars or gave a country justification to interfere in another countries affairs, to play a damaging role in stopping the national unity agenda, and we have several examples with what's happening in Libya, Yemen, Iraq. We saw that this is happening regionally, now it's happening within the state itself. Now you see there is a state of polarization within the state, that was driven by leaders of those countries and becoming an obstacle for change, by using stability as justification. By resisting the change means that people will start to lose hope, the problems are not going to be solved, it will become a breeding ground for extremism or terrorism, and then we will begin to talk about the spillover into the region or into Europe.
If we look at the picture from this angle we will see that there are three main reasons for this power game. One is the absence of wisdom. Second is the impulsive and adventurous leadership in the region. Third is the vacuum of international order, of the regional order, for enforcement mechanisms and grievance mechanisms required in order for the smaller countries to be given the opportunity to submit their grievances against the big countries, and having a platform to arbitrate whatever measures were taken against them. Yes, this has happened with Qatar, Lebanon, Somalia and in bigger crises like Yemen, Libya and Iraq.
We see that there is a vacuum of wisdom and enforcement mechanisms. We are not living in the previous century. We are living in the 21st century, where is there is globalization, new technology and ways of communication, transportation. This age is bringing the world closer, so anything happening in the Middle East will have spillover effects on Europe or other regions. We see that the movement of transnational terrorism and the movement of refugees or migrants have caused suffering in Italy and other countries in the Mediterranean region.
There are several tactical measures being taken to address and treat those results, but what we have only addressed the results. We have not looked at the root causes for all these phenomena growing in the region. We believe that we cannot treat the result and ignore the root causes. We have to look at the reasons that brought us to this situation. When we look at them we will see that the people have no hope in getting a just solution for their crisis. There is a missing part in humanitarian crises and tragedies, which is the hope for a solution; a just solution that will address the real concerns.
After providing them with a just solution and with positive conditions, where human rights are practiced without any resistance from their tyrant leaders or from other countries and safety is provided, then we can provide them with economic development. Economic development is very important in empowering those countries in order from them not to need to travel and come to Europe in search of better lives.
You may think that I have presented you with a dark picture, but it's not as dark as I have explained it. It's darker. It's darker, because of what's happening there and how we are standing at a distance, and looking at it, without moving and taking serious steps towards ending this polarization situation. We have to stop these power players from continuing their games and adventures. We need to take a serious step, right now, to engage in a regional security dialogue and to agree on principles that all countries should adhere to, whether they are big or small. There should be principles that unite us together, and from those principles we can reach the next level of cooperation where we build on our political and security agreement, another level of economic cooperation that will not be destructed by political conflict.
This is our view in Qatar. This is the way we see it, not only because of the Gulf Crisis and what has happened in the form of illegal unilateral measures by the blockading states. It's our view, because of our concern for the entire region, that it might go through another cycle of turmoil, and we need to avoid and stop it from now.
David Hearst: You talked about a power game, but there are also two quite distinct visions of the region. It's more than just a power game, isn't it? It's for dominance of the region in the wake of the US withdrawal, not military withdrawal, but certainly a policy withdrawal. One policy states that Arabs aren't ready for democracy or for free speech or for Al-Jazeera, and they have to be managed. There is another very alternate vision that accepts the results of free elections, no matter what the results. There is a very fundamental split going on. Would you like to comment what you think the endgame of the blockading states are, in terms of the visions for the region?
HE the Foreign Minister: Qatar has always been a progressive force in the region. We have our differences with other Gulf states, but those differences never put them at a level of security threat. This has always been the guiding principle for our relation with other GCC countries. We never believed, or imaged, that those differences would lead to such aggressive measures against Qatar, by starting a baseless and fabricated case against Qatar. We put everything and talked to everybody we need to engage in a dialogue to understand those differences, and to see what their concerns are. If it is a security concern then it is also a security concern for us too. All of are collectively obliged to solve and address these concerns. We have been calling and the blockading states were in a state of denial, they wanted no talks and only for us to stop doing certain things, while all those "things" were based on fabrications, which they are 100% aware of.
We need to have a sense of wisdom that our collective security is threatened by these measures and by the GCC falling apart. From the beginning we see Qatar behaving in a very calm and mature manner, asking them to engage in dialogue and address their concerns in a civilized way. We believe this should be the endgame. No country's endgame will result in the submission of one country to another. This will not happen for Qatar or any of the blockading states or any other country. We need to reach a level of understanding and guiding security principles that everybody agrees to and is committed to, and from there we can build on the next step towards cooperation. We cannot go back to bullying another country because of a disagreement. This is not acceptable to Qatar and has never been acceptable in the international community.
Alberto Negri: During this crisis, it was interesting to see two countries supporting Qatar, Turkey and Iran. Both these countries are not Arab countries, that is a big change. What's happening in the region now?
HE the Foreign Minister: There is a distinction between the relationship we have in the region, whether it's with Arab and GCC partners. We have a strong relationship with Turkey, in the form of strategic cooperation with them in different areas, whether it's in defense, economy, education and culture. This relationship has continued for years and decades. The relationship happened because we agreed on security principles which have been respected by both countries, have continued to see eye to eye and build on this cooperation. So, we see that such a relationship is rewarding for both countries. We find Turkey standing with us during this crisis, ensuring us with lines of supply for goods, medicine and food supplies. This is highly appreciated by the Qatari people, even more than the Qatari government.
Iran is a bordering country of Qatar and the rest of the Gulf countries. We share a gas field and a border with them. It is not a country in Europe or America that is hundreds of miles away, it is one that is not far from us. We have differences with Iran, but we shouldn't resort to confrontation in order to overcome these differences, we need to address them through dialogue. We need to invite everyone to engage in this dialogue for us to overcome our differences and find solutions to them. If we remain isolated from each other, the level of tension is going to increase and then another crisis will be created out of this tension. Again, we see the best way to overcoming these differences is through dialogue. The GCC as a group agreed to this. This is not something to new for Qatar. In our last GCC meeting, in December 2016, there was agreement to further the efforts for dialogue led by the Emir of Kuwait.
What has changed in the situation after the blockade? There is no change in policy of those differences. We have talked to the Iranians, but some political differences still remain. We have engaged in dialogue regarding those differences to find a solution and a way to move forward. We hope that the Gulf countries will come together with us to engage in dialogue collectively with the Iranians to address those concerns.
On the other hand, I have a country that is surrounded from three sides by blockading states, who are not willing to allow our planes to fly over them, or to cross the only land border to ensure the supplies of food and medicine for our people. We have one single pathway, whether by sea or air, which is via Iran. Therefore, I need to intensify me relation with Iran in order to ensure the supplies for my people. My people are the first priority, before anyone else. So, we see that this blockade, just represents an obstacle for our collective efforts to ensure the security prevails in all the region, and that instability doesn't play out and being used by those power players.
David Hearst: There appears to be a push by Saudi Arabia to normalize relationships, business relationships, and contacts with Israel. Almost before a final status settlement is reached. Is this the best way around, will this work?
HE the Foreign Minister: We have an agreed process, which is the Arab Peace Initiative, that should result in a two state solution and solving the problem of settlement, land swaps, and all those problems in order to normalize the relationship. All the Arab countries agree on this peace process, and Qatar is among them. We believe that any attempt for a peace solution, to reach our endgame which is the two state solution, will be supported by Qatar. We will not be an obstacle for this solution, but we need to ensure that the parties are serious to engage in the negotiation in order to reach the result. We need to have a Palestinian state based on the borders of 1967 and Eastern Jerusalem as its capital. We need to achieve this end goal, and make sure we have a unified opinion on the steps required to achieve this goal. We welcome any hope of achieving this peace.
Alberto Negri: Last question. Why is Italy important to Qatar? And why is Qatar important to Italy?
HE the Foreign Minister: As I just described our relation with Turkey, Qatar and Italy have a strong political, security relationship, where we reach a level of understanding, where we see eye to eye, discussion regional issues, and agreeing on principles of security and safety took us to another level of increasing economic cooperation. The growth of the bilateral relation between Qatar and Italy has been very fast, and last year's growth was around 21%. We have around 59 Italian companies operating and investing in Qatar. We have a lot of investments in Italy, which are coming back with great returns for our investments. We took it to another level where we are joining our efforts together with third countries, whether it's in international cooperation or investment. We have just signed a joint agreement, between Qatar and Italy for an oil project in Oman. We are looking for more projects elsewhere. We have our development agenda that is coordinated jointly where we are doing projects in Mali. There is a level of strong relations based on principles of security and mutual respect.
Alberto Negri: Thank you very much to the Qatari Foreign Minister, but one last remark. In five years there will be a world football championship in Qatar. I hope that we can see each other and see a match together in Doha. Thank you very much.