Chair of the Committee: Ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues, now we will continue our eighteenth meeting, and we are very happy to receive in this committee the State of Qatar's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs His Excellency Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, and accompanying him is a delegation of many senior officials. I would also like to welcome the ambassador His Excellency Abdulrahman bin Mohammed Suleiman Al-Khulaifi, and he is a well-known figure in this parliament. Mr. Ambassador, the European Union has strong relations with all the nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council, including the State of Qatar. The relations between Qatar and the European Union are very important for us, and these relations have been strengthened recently by the signing of the Joint Cooperation Agreement in March 2018, and we hope this agreement will serve as the basis for strengthening political dialogue and deepening relations in various sectors. We in the European Parliament strongly support the efforts of Qatar to diversify economy and its agenda to transform in accordance with Qatar National Vision 2030. As your Excellency's know, the European Union and the European Parliament have displayed a neutral position in the ongoing crisis in the Gulf. A year after this crisis, the European Union has maintained the same position of supporting the Kuwaiti mediation to resolve the crisis, given that the Gulf Cooperation Council is crucial to regional cooperation and stability.
We are all following the latest developments and the great deterioration that occurred in recent weeks. We believe stopping escalation is very important to achieve regional stability. The crisis must be an opportunity for the nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council to become stronger, and not to weaken it, and this is the message we carried to the delegation of the Committee on Foreign Affairs which went to Riyadh a few months ago. Therefore, we invited you to give us insight on Qatar's view on the crisis and how you are dealing with this issue. Can you give us insight into your opinion regarding the American efforts to hold a high summit for Gulf Cooperation Council leaders at Camp David this summer, which was delayed until September? There are also many issues we would like you to discuss with us. Again, welcome and please go ahead and speak.
His Excellency the Foreign Minister: Thank you, Your Excellency's, and I would also like to thank all members of the European Parliament for hosting me today, and for giving me the opportunity to speak in your distinguished Parliament. First of all, allow me to outline Qatar's foreign and internal policy, and how Qatar has succeeded in overcoming the turmoil in the region, especially the chaos that has taken place in recent years. First comes social and economic development at the top priorities of the agenda of the State of Qatar, and this is not limited to domestic policy but also encompasses the principles guiding our foreign policy. We have invested heavily during the past 20 years to build and sustain these global values in the Middle East. Before everything else, we focused on human development and human capital, where Qatar invested heavily in education. Qatar now has world-class universities and schools with diverse backgrounds that enjoy freedom of expression and academic activity, which is unique in the region. In the field of human rights, Qatar has progressed during the past few years, where it developed its laws, legislations, and regulations to protect human rights, labor rights, and to try and resolve all matters that concern the international community and the European Union, including empowering women, which represented a priority in the internal policy of the State of Qatar. We have the biggest percentage of employed women in the Gulf Cooperation Council states, and the number of female students is higher than male students in universities in Qatar.
Qatar believes that a culture of coexistence and tolerance is the core part of its agenda for human development. During the past 20 years, we have heavily invested to provide a platform for dialogue between religions. From another point, we heavily focused on the agenda of economic development in our country because we believe this leads to achieving prosperity for our people. If we observe Qatar's progress over the past two decades, we will recognize that Qatar is one of the major suppliers of liquefied natural gas in the world, with %30 of LNG coming from the State of Qatar. Therefore, Qatar became a very important partner for many nations, including the European Union and Asia. For us, Europe is considered the biggest market after Asia, especially Japan and Korea. We provide energy to the United Kingdom, Poland, and other European nations as well. During the past two decades, Qatar has proven that it is a reliable partner in the field of energy. If we look at the size of our economy, and then we look back to 1998, we will see that the GDP was $10 billion, and it has now surpassed $15 billion, which means it multiplied 15 times in just two decades. This growth and development was really a result of the efforts of the government and people of Qatar, and this contributes to prosperity not only for our country but also for our entire region. The European Union is considered the second biggest market for us, where 30% of our imports come from member countries. Freedom of access to information and freedom of the press and media is an essential part of the values in which Qatar believes and invests in.
Yes, we are in a region where freedom of press and expression hasn't reached what the West has, and in this regard, Qatar is considered the best in our region. That was 20 years ago when the foundations of press freedom were established at a time when there were no media outlets except official government outlets. We supported the establishment of Al-Jazeera, and it is now of the best free media outlets in the region, and it is one of the best news channels not only in Arabic but also in English and other languages around the world. We believe that constructive dialogue is our way forward, therefore Qatar provided a platform for various parties to exchange views and discuss differences to reach comprises through dialogue. Qatar also heavily invested in establishing good governance, which is an essential element of the rule of law. We believe that transparency and combatting corruption are among the most important requirements for the success of any nation, and Qatar has demonstrated its leadership in this regard, where it holds the first rank in the world in the index of confidence in political decision-making, and second in terms of efficiency of the legislative system. The truth is that these values and principles represent the essence of what we believe in and apply practically and not just what we call for, and they are the principles we call for after we exercise them, therefore, it is important to apply before promotion because our goal is for it to spread in the nations of the region by way of providing help to other nations through our support of 10 peace and mediation agreements which is what happened in Lebanon, Sudan, and the Palestinians for example. We have heavily invested to provide education opportunities for those who are denied education opportunities in effected areas, and that is through supported programs in an essential way from Qatar in partnership with many partners, and among them some European countries. We have heavily invested in achieving economic empowerment and job creation, and we have created institutions, and job opportunities for hundreds of thousands of youth in the Middle East region and North Africa. We believe that improving living conditions in unstable areas is the right away forward to achieve greater stability in the Middle East. We have supported reconstruction efforts in all parts of the region, including Lebanon, Gaza, and Darfur in Sudan, and we are now witnessing the results of that support.
In Darfur, those displaced are now returning to their villages and cities where schools, homes, and health services are provided. That is part of Qatar's vision in the region. As a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, I am confident that you are all following the escalation that is happening in the Middle East over the past year especially in Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Syria, and the spread of cross-border terrorism and extremism, and finally in the Gulf crisis. We in Qatar believe that the Middle East region needs to establish a culture for collective regional security. But unfortunately, instead of uniting to face shared challenges to achieve this goal the regional powers have sought to destabilize the region and violate international law. The political maneuvers witnessed in the Middle East and the aggressive actions that are not constructive undermine regional security and create a vacuum that represents the ideal environment that nurtures the growth and spread of extremism and terrorism. As a result of the same non-constructive behavior, my country found itself day and night exposed to some of these problems, including extortion and the blockade. Our neighbors see the changes achieved by Qatar represent a threat to them, and in reality they don't hesitate to stigmatize anyone of being a terrorist if he does not share their views and trends. We in Qatar adopt the method of change and constructive criticism along the path of developing our country, but we also see that the solution to differences must be done through dialogue and not blockade. During the past year, we have called for the establishment of dialogue and we repeatedly invited our neighbors to the negotiating table, and we requested that they clarify their position and the reasons that led to this blockade, and their violations of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and taking all these measures against Qatar. Unfortunately, we are seeing more escalation from their side, to the extent that they are still ignoring the invitations addressed to them from the international community to enter into dialogue, and they are still continuing their non-constructive measures not only against Qatar but also against other countries in the region. We see that our region is unable to handle more crises, and we have enough problems on the table, and there are many negative effects for these problems on stability in the region. We call for a regional security partnership between all the countries of the Middle East, because if you look carefully at crises in the Middle East, you will see that the same players are involved in these crises, and we want them to come to the dialogue table to adopt the principle of collective security and to contribute to pushing it forward.
The European Union has a significant role to play in this context, because everything that happens in this region has an effect on it, whether it is in the form of the flow of refugees or the spread of cross-border terrorism. We welcome the efforts of the European states to establish dialogue on regional security which Qatar believes in and tries to strengthen.
Chair of the Committee: Thank you, Your Excellency. We have twenty minutes for discussion and to exchange views, and in this moment, I have 5 colleagues who wish to speak. I would like to present Alliot-Marie. But before these five, I would like to present the head of the delegation.
Alliot-Marie: Thank you, Your Excellency and welcome to the Committee on Foreign Affairs. I would like to ask 3 questions. The State of Qatar plays a significant economic and political role in a strategic region where stability and development is not just for the region and Europe only, but for the entire world. From this point on, I would like to ask an economic question: What are the essential fields of economic diversification for the State of Qatar and the region, and the investment you are carrying out? And what are the fields and geographical areas that you are most interested in? The second question is political and strategic and concerns combatting extremism and terrorism which is considered a phenomenon that we are all united against. Can you give us a concrete example for the means that Qatar provides to combat terrorism, like combatting the financing of terrorism and extremist thinking? And what are the measures you are supposed to take in this regard? The third question concerns the Gulf crisis, which you just have touched on: Can you explain to us how you will deal with the crisis during the coming months? We have a feeling there are movements to resolve the crisis, and during other moments, we feel like it will continue for many years. There was a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Kuwait, and it was on the formal level. Do you think there will be political communication or dialogue at the level of leaders in the coming months? You talked about the values and principles adopted by the State of Qatar, can you clarify some points regarding two questions we would like to ask here: the first about religious tolerance, and I know Qatar took some measures in this field. And the second is regarding foreign workers to help prepare Qatar host the World Cup and the questions asked in this regard?
Chair of the Committee: Thank you, Alliot-Marie. I suggest we dedicate one minute to each question.
Chairman: The opportunity is now for Mr. Bechir.
Bechir: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Your Excellency, welcome to this meeting. Allow me to salute your country for your efforts to establish Al-Jazeera network as a unique and unbiased platform and an institution that enjoys high professionalism. I have two questions, Your Excellency's. The first: I would like you to comment on the effect of the siege on your citizens and their right to travel, specifically to the holy places in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the effects on commercial business. And I would like to listen to your opinions on the extent of your welcome for mediation from the European Union, and also Kuwait and Oman?
Chair of the Committee: Thank you. Question for the Green Party.
Delegate of the Green Party: I have a question about human rights, and specifically migrant workers. A few years ago, we heard here in Parliament that you adopted very strict laws to protect foreign workers, and you should be congratulated on that. You pledged to end the Kafala system, and you have imposed a minimum wage. Can you elaborate on how close or far you are from adopting these measures to end the Kafala system? Can you talk to us about the conflict in Yemen, where many war crimes are being committed, and have been recently committed against children. What are your suggestions for finding solutions for Yemen?
Question not in the English or French languages.
Question: You have talked about constructive dialogue, are you optimistic about Qatari-Saudi relations? Can you talk to us about Qatari-Iranian relations? And can the State of Qatar have an effect on stopping the flow of Iranian weapons to Yemen, and can you tell us what you think the long-term development in Yemen will be?
Question: Thank you, Your Excellency's. I hope there will be strong cooperation between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Foreign Affairs. We signed an agreement with the Human Rights Committee in Qatar, and I hope that will be a helpful factor in the stability of the region. Are you thinking of making any kind of cooperation with the European Union regarding combatting terrorism, and do you have a shared interest with the European Union in combatting extremism and terrorism, seeing how everyone from the European Union and Qatar are working to combat this phenomenon.
Question: I would like to ask a question regarding the extent of your conflict with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the current time, knowing that it is best not to interfere in the affairs of the Gulf Cooperation Council. If things do go as desired, is it possible for Michele Alliot-Marie, our President with the European Union to play a role in supporting Kuwaiti mediation? The second question concerns domestic workers and it isn’t included in the proposed new sponsorship system reforms. Would you suggest that domestic workers receive the same benefits guaranteed by the Qatari Labor Code?
His Excellency the Foreign Minister: I will answer to the best of my ability. Regarding the question about the political and economic role of Qatar in the international stage, I will say that the economic diversification which we have made great progress with represents a part of our national vision. When we started the diversification plan approximately 86% of our GDP came from hydrocarbon wealth, but in 2017 this percentage went down to about 50%, and our ultimate goal is to reduce the contribution of the hydrocarbon sector to our economy. We have used several tools to achieve this, whether in diversifying our investments in different industries, and trying to create more manufacturing industries, and building infrastructure components like buildings, ports, and airports. The reality is that Qatar's port, which was opened just last September, now accounts for 27% of the region's trade. As part of our plan to diversify economy, we have decided to invest all our financial surpluses we achieved from petrol, when its prices were high in global investments. With these resources, we have targeted many big companies in America, Asia, Europe, and Europe is still our main destination. These investments achieve a lot in the field of investment, whether it is in the financial sector among others.
As for Qatar's role in combatting terrorism, and what we have accomplished when it comes to eliminating extremism in our region. Qatar has invested a lot as part of its national agenda for development as I mentioned during my opening remarks, and that is that we are trying to eliminate the essential causes of terrorism. We are dealing with combatting terrorism on two different sides: a tactical side and a strategic side. On the tactical side, Qatar is considered a center for the international coalition to combat Daesh, and we are hosting coalition forces, and provide all that it needs, and our armed forces participate in the coalition and logistic support. Regarding the combat of financing for terrorism, great progress occurred in our legal system. In 2014, we developed our judicial system to ban money from charity groups reaching the wrong hands, and we are continuing to develop this work, but there is more that needs to be achieved and improved despite the fact we accomplished a lot in this field. This phenomenon doesn't just concern Qatar only, but also includes the entire world, therefore we cooperate. We signed an agreement with the United States that includes a lot of technical assistance and capacity-building programs, and we benefited a lot from them, and we made progress. We also signed an agreement with France as well, and we organized the first dialogue for combatting terrorism last year, and we also discuss that with other nations, where we see that our information network on terrorist financiers and the development of logistics systems can be strengthened. You also touched upon our domestic policy on religious tolerance and worker's rights. We have been hosting dialogue between religions for the past 20 years. People from various religions practice their religions and we also opened houses of worship for Christians, while in some countries they confiscate the Bible and Cross at airports. We in Qatar believe that coexistence requires from us this kind of dialogue to contribute in a positive way to humanity.
As for the rights of workers, a lot of progress was made during the past few years. Here lies the difference where we talk about a country that accepts criticism and deals with it positively, and other countries that do not accept it and don't allow anyone to criticize it, and take action against any points of criticism. As for us, we welcomed this criticism when delegates from the European Union came to us on a visit three or four years ago, a lot of change occurred during the past three years until now. And that is thanks to our friends, where we have intensified the degree of cooperation and dialogue with them, and have signed agreements with the Commissions on Human Rights, and we look forward to expanding that cooperation with the Committee on Foreign Affairs as well as governmental bodies. We share your values. One worker is like a thousand workers in terms of interest. One worker means a lot to us, and we don't accept that a worker dies on a site because of lack of control, or laws, or because of restrictions imposed by contractors. Our country is making every effort to achieve the best results for the workers and to provide them with the best conditions. We look at them as partners and contributors in this development, and they are playing an important role in our progress as a small country with a small population, and we highly appreciate that. Regarding the death of workers, as was touched upon in some of the questions, any worker's situation matters to us as just like our interest with all workers. The system in Qatar doesn't tolerate the death of one workers even before any reforms are made, and when there were no restrictions or regulations. We have intensified our efforts and surveillance, doubled the number of observers and developed cooperation networks, where now an office for the International Labor Organization was opened in Doha, which helped the Ministry of Labor build their capabilities. Regarding the Kafala system, that system is truly over, and it was replaced by new laws. All companies turned to the system of the new laws, where the work relationship became contractual rather than a sponsorship system. As for the wages system, it works now, and has been for more than a year, in a very good way.
Regarding the Gulf crisis, and the future, we believe now that it is at an impasse. Qatar remains open to dialogue and has welcomed all the efforts of friendly countries like Kuwait, the main mediator and the leader of these efforts. All our international partners support the Emir of Kuwait. Qatar has participated positively in the efforts of the Emir of Kuwait, most recently the message sent to His Highness to the Gulf Cooperation Council to invite them to attend and discuss all developments and to discuss the Gulf crisis. Qatar was the only country that responded to the Emir of Kuwait, where we sent them our response before two weeks, and until now none of the other countries have responded. We see that the solution comes from peaceful dialogue, and not by imposing it, or using a zero-sum strategy. We believe that everyone loses because of this crisis, our people lose, our regional security is subject to loss, and our international partners also lose, the GCC as a unified bloc. We thank the blockading states, we have tried to ignore a truth, the blockading states have worked to undermine the security of the region, and the future of the GCC states, and we hope that the future of the GCC states will be prosperous, but before anything else, we need to say what are the rules governing the members of the GCC states, we don't have to launch attacks on some members of the council, just as we must further strengthen the foundations of respect for the safety and security of other states.
Regarding the situation in Syria and the role of the State of Qatar concerning the situation in Syria, and regarding the support for Jabhat Al-Nusra. Unfortunately, those who say Qatar supports Jabhat Al-Nusra, are basing it on false information. Qatar never supported Jabhat Al-Nusra or any extremist group in Syria. The support we provided was through clear channels, and it went to the moderate opposition, and with us, through that, the European partners, Qatar wasn't alone, Qatar and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a regional partner, and European and American partners. We all ran operations from a single room where joint support operations are managed. If you looked for that, the reality is that Qatar does not tolerate these extremist groups, and we did not help any organization working to hand over the region up to Al-Qaeda or Daesh. If these organizations think the West is the enemy, then they think Muslim countries are traitors. For us, anyone who holds this belief represents a threat, and considers us an enemy, and these groups come to harm us as Muslim countries in the region more than any other country ,and we know this truth very well. So why don't we work with each other with a strategy and make sure that some groups don't resort to extremism, and therefore we would have defeated extremism in the long-run. If we invested in the education of our children and empowering of the economy, and work to replace weapons in the hands of our children with pens, we will be working to build their future in the long-run.
Regarding the relationship between Qatar and Iran, Qatar has differences with Iran when it comes to our policies, and we see that these differences are essential to the region, but many people believe it is possible to get past these differences through entering into direct dialogue and not confrontation, or resorting to escalation. Now, who is the biggest victim of this crisis? They are the people of the region, whether in Syria or Libya, Yemen, or the other neighboring countries. What we see in the situation in Yemen, we were a part of the coalition until 2015 when it was launched, and we should have resorted to a political solution, and for all parties to meet under the principles of the GCC countries, but the situation changed to what it is now…
Now we don't see any progress, but we see secret prisons, torture, and there is a contradiction in the agenda presented by members of the assembly. We don't see any progress or hope of finding a political solution for the Yemeni crisis. Qatar does not support the Iranian situation, or any situation in Yemen, and we will never support any party in the Yemeni conflict, and we will not support the coalition in the war in Yemen. We support the Yemeni people to achieve more stability and support all sides in Yemen to come to the negotiation table and to find a solution to the Yemeni issue. Yemen is a bleeding country and it is on the brink of collapse, there are 10 million people suffering from famine, and with the recent Operation Al-Hudaydah, there are over 8 million people suffering from famine. By the end of this year, up to 20 million people will be subjected to abuses. We see that the international community hasn't moved a finger. It only issues convictions. We want to see more movement, and for it to work to stop all wars that are going on right now in the region, and to return to reason and wisdom.
Speaker: We would like to thank His Excellency for accepting the invitation, and for this valuable discussion.
His Excellency the Foreign Minister: I would like to thank all the attendees, and all members of the Committee on Foreign Affairs.