Mr. Thierry de Montbrial, Executive Chairman of the French Institute of International Relations, founder and Chairman of the World Policy Conference, Thank you for inviting me…
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my honour to be speaking at the World Policy Conference once again. It is always a pleasure to share my thoughts with you all and exchange ideas. I had the chance to look at the agenda and I believe the sessions and panels cover a wide range of critical topics from globalization to cyber security. Personally, I believe in the mission of this conference which is to promote a world that is more open, more prosperous and fairer, and explore non-aggressive ways of adapting how States connect with each other at all levels, while respecting the culture and fundamental interests of each nation. In that respect, allow me to shed light on a topic that the agenda is missing and to ask a critical question of collective security.
How do we in the MENA transition from managing crises,, to seeking comprehensive solutions?
Through a regional security system.
- Analysis - Managing Crises
We were in New York a few weeks ago and His Highness the Emir spoke to the UNGA on the many challenges we face in the MENA region: crises, conflicts, transnational threats, diplomatic tensions, and violent interventions. We have witnessed failure after failure of regional and multilateral organizations in solving conflicts in addition to the failure or refusal to hold perpetrators accountable.
- Although the middle east is a region of turmoil, we in Qatar view the middle east as a critical region with global importance, it is the global intersection of air, sea and even the birth of faiths. In fact, the middle east is home to the first diplomatic letters and treaties as found by archaeologists dating back to around 2500 BC. We come from a dynamic energy hub, a pillar of international financial networks and a crossroad for human migration. Unfortunately, we also come from the same region that is largely divided with scattered conflict areas and lack of trust and coordination.
We ask time and time again: why are conflicts in the middle east resistant to both regional and global diplomacy. Why are some states allowed to resort to the “diplomacy of denial” rejecting diplomacy as a legitimate mode of international action? We have witnessed first-hand how this strategy is highly destabilizing and creates great uncertainty. Although this strategy is usually used by terrorist networks, warlords, and militias, we have seen the trend of “diplomacy of denial” among States in the region who wage war, blockade, and disrespect regional and international mechanisms.
- Solution – Comprehensive Solutions – Regionalization vs. Globalization
I recall His Highness the Amir’s remarks at the UNGA that a regional security system is crucial to preserve “the security and stability of the Middle East in general and the Gulf region in particular”. During the Munich Security conference of 2018, His Highness the Amir called for collective action to put differences aside. Similarly, in my last participation at the WPC, I called for an enforcing mechanism to end conflicts.
I am here today, to reiterate that call, and to give perspective on the importance of a regional security pact in the Middle East. The Middle East desperately needs a sustainable framework to ensure long term peace and stability. The chain of events in our region demonstrated the practical utility to a coherent approach for regional collective security.
What we need in the Middle East is a collective regional (binding) mechanism; based on agreed principles of security and a set of rules for governance, respect of sovereignty and equality among its members. This means that all countries need to agree on a baseline of non-interference in the domestic and foreign affairs of states and more importantly; Not to use Ethnic or Confessional diversity and minorities as a scapegoat for interference, we have to build a nation of citizens,, Hoping these initial steps would provide incentive and paves the way for the region’s peace and prosperity.
Expanding the scope of the agreement is also important; so that it is not only limited to security issues but also includes cooperation and dialogue—ones with economic and political dimensions—to build trust and confidence among members.
The unbalanced policies in the region and aggressive miscalculations are impractical. Over the past months and years, we have witnessed unprecedented tensions arising from miscalculations. The idea of playing off one against the other in a balance-of-power scenario is dangerous; and puts Qatar and the region in a volatile situation. Instead of applying maximum pressure or exclusion, there is a greater prospect in collaboration and working together in containing threats within a regional collective-security scheme.
Without a doubt, achieving stability in the Middle East is more likely if there is a foundation of stability in those countries who need support from friendly states. With a stable foundation, we can work hand in hand with those nations to advance trade, regional development, good governance and the productive use of energy resources.
The solution we are calling for is a wider regional security in the Middle East. An agreement on basic security principles and rules of governance, and a minimum level of security to allow for peace and prosperity. Despite the gravity of the geopolitical tensions, we still believe in this today.
Question: For countries to accept the rule of the game they have to agree beforehand on the rules themselves and their will to respect the rule. And do you see any chance in the foreseeable future for countries such as iRAN – the major power in the region, Saudi Arabia to move in the direction you have indicated – do you think there are any signs that they could play that game or is it more realistic to believe that the war direct or indirect will continue until some sort of balance of power is reached and also the role of external power such us the US, Russia and others – that is my simple questions.
Thank you Thierry for this wide question. First of all I believe that it is the only way forward we are not talking about multiple choices or options for the countries to choose what the way forward could look like. But now the big question is about the time the overall environment in the region is very tense and we see that the room of diplomacy and the gates to that room are narrowing very much. But what we are calling for all those countries instead of trying to project their power in order to change the balance of the region and then resort to diplomacy I think it is better to start from now. These miscalculations will lead us to chaos that the region cannot afford. We appreciate the role of big powers if they will contribute constructively and we will not be of a competition to them. But we strongly believe that what is happening in the region needs a regional solution, and what we see right now an increase in tension and attacks from one another whether its military attack or it is some sort of specific operation that hurts the whole region. And since the tension is high, we believe that the big countries can take a positive role by encouraging all the parties to engage in a regional dialogue rather than helping in dividing the region more and more. It is a very delicate situation for all of us and requires lot of leadership from big countries to come and lead a regional process.
Question: You mentioned leadership of big countries do you see any leader among big countries? For instance
I am talking about my region, I am not talking about the big players in the international community or the P5 as they call them. But we see unfortunately there is a vacuum of leadership in the countries and this is a fact we are witnessing; and we see miscalculations that took place if we had a strong leadership in the region it wouldn’t happen we have seen that all the conflicts going in the region and we didn’t see an act from the region. For example, unfortunately a failed example of regional cooperation is the Arab league. Four Arab capitals are bombed everyday and the Arab league did not move a step; but when Turkey started their operation in Northern Syria the Arab league called all the Arabs to condemn this. Israel bombing in Lebanon, Syria, in Iraq the Arab league didn’t move and we have other Arab countries bombing other Arab country but the Arab league didn’t move. We have a lot of issues that the regional framework is not effective.
Thierry de Montbrial : Thank you very much so we have time for two or three questions; I see a hand yes please.
Question: Thank you very much my question is specifically on Sahel we have seen countries Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, up to Chad and a lot of pressure from extremist, violent extremist, and these are countries that are Muslim majority countries it is not out of question to express more solidarity for countries in the Middle East such as Qatar to fight these terrorist and violent extremist. So far we are seeing France working through a force that have been deployed, Germany is making some efforts and the United States. The nature of the threat is similar to what we saw in northern Iraq and Syria so a global coalition is required to come to support these four countries; which have a huge responsibility to have effective control over a huge territories so would your country be willing to play a more effective role in the context of a global effort – the countries met and said now we draw the line we cannot let the threat go beyond Burkina Faso we must face terrorism and violent extremism; but we need a global coalition because the same Islamic state is showing itself as Islamic state west Africa and it must be defeated from West Africa we would like to hear from you your Excellency what Qatar could do in context of this global effort.
Thank you for your question and first of all it is very important to watch closely what is happening in the Sahel region, and we believe that the threat of terrorism and extremism is now transnational and not limited to middle east but migrating from one place to another with almost free movements . What is happening there in the Sahel region is very dangerous and threating the international peace and security and not only threating Africa. And all of us the international community should be united in fighting the phenomena. Right now the available mechanisms for helping the Sahel is the French led initiative which is on G7 Sahel – I think they call it and Qatar is contributing directly to the states for escape Mali and Burkina we are supporting them and have already sent some support for military equipment they need for their fight but meanwhile we also do another initiative that addresses the grassroots for those terrorism and violent extremism by providing education and building schools over there, so in Mali 2 years ago we have launched a program for one million children in Mali to be educated under education above all an institution which is from Qatar. And also we are doing the same programs to the other Sahel countries .But I think it is very important to emphasize on the importance of resolving the conflicts in that region in order to have a safe environment for the people but also not to allow the terrorist to find it as a fertile ground for them. Like for example the northern Mali issue we need to put an end for this conflict and find a way forward to resolve it and I think there is a lot of efforts from friendly nations who are trying to help in resolving these issues but overall Sahel remains very important not for Africa and not for Europe but for all of us in the region
Question: You mentioned in your introductory remark your recent trip to New York for the United Nations General Assembly. One of the main things you have done was to present alongside France and Jamaica the Climate Finance Action Plan. Is this renewed focus on issues like water, climate are really which are really shared in the region might be a catalyst for more in depth corporation between the various countries in the region.
Climate Change is a global matter that everybody should be concerned about and should be a matter that unites countries and using these issues that unite countries and the region together is very important. But what we have seen until now is that nothing has been practical to bring countries together. Another example in the gulf is the issue of water, which is vital for all Gulf countries and Iran as well. We did not even have a dialogue around this topic, which is existential for the people in our region. So I think there is still a lack of maturity in countries in the region to talk about the uniting topics and not to just limit their talks to the controversial issues that they are having differences with.
We have seen a sort of agreement in the OPEC for the oil production but this is because it is a direct win win situation for the countries who are part of OPEC but nothing that is touching directly the people of the region. We did not see any move like this. Qatar is a small country but a global player. We care a lot about global issues, we are trying to see in which area we can contribute positively in, and we do it such as in the Green Fund which was launched in New York. We see a need for the small states to be supported and help through these sort of mechanisms. Our contributions was directed to those small states and islands who are suffering an existential threat because of the climate change.
Question: My question is about gender. At the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, we are promoting and empowering women in Muslim countries we have communicated with some countries and there are many empowered women there. Why don’t you leave this important issue to women in the Middle East for making better and long lasting peace?
We have all the respect for the role of women. They have contributed throughout history in a very constructive manner. What they did to our region and the country has been highly appreciated and recognized by everyone. We believe that women participation should be in all fields not only in peace negotiation. Comparing participation of women ten years ago to what is happening now, there is a very big shift in their participation. Women, throughout history, have always been participating hand in hand with men. For the last years, they have been more behind the scenes than the front line. For peace negotiations, if women can achieve it maybe one day men will screw it up. Let us put them hand in hand together and negotiate for peace. I do not see an exclusive role for men and women. I am seeing exclusive roles for visionary leaders to come and talk about new initiatives that bring people together.
Question: What we would like to see for regional security is to have cooperation between countries and not to have this division between countries not only between Arab league but also the Gulf. I think Qatar could play a role in trying to get the big countries together. Egypt is one of them and is open to have some sort of reconciliation.
Qatar has been a strong believer in cooperation and dialogue. Talking about the division and what is happening within the gulf, it is really counterproductive not only for Qatar but for the entire region and we see how its paralyzed the whole situation. Qatar never used the diplomacy of denial which I just mentioned in my remarks and we remained open to engage and talk with everyone within the Gulf and Egypt. We have no problems with other Arab countries. As a small country, I will have a problem with the countries who initiated hostility against my country, who threatened in one day my existence. With everything that they have done, we are always open and welcoming any initiative that will lead for unity again. Unity does not mean we should love each other, but we should learn to live together.
Regarding Egypt, it is an important country in the region. One of the leaders in the region It has huge potential in its leadership because of its population and its resources. And we hope one day that this leadership will see the light with other leading countries such as Iraq, we hope that Syria can recover from everything that’s been happening and how it’s been hijacked by a war criminal. All these countries can lead the future of this region. In Qatar, we are open to everyone, we want to see these big countries assuming their leadership role and moving the way forward for our region for a better future for the generations.
Question: I appreciated what you said about regional dialogue. Couple of years ago, Qatar tried to be a leader in the region partly by sponsoring diplomacy, mediation but quiet aggressively funding and supporting both political and armed opposition in Syria and that did not succeed very well to say the least. How would you in retrospect evaluate your own role and your own attempt to change the situation in one of the countries in the region?
First of all, allow me to correct some of your statements, Qatar is not trying to be a leader in the region the last 2 years. Qatar has been for two decades active diplomatically in the region, in resolving conflicts. We know our size. We know we are a small country and we know that Qatar has played a leadership role during the two decades. We have helped in resolving conflicts in Soudan-Darfur. There was a genocide there and people have been displaced. Qatar also supported Lebanon and resolved the crisis with Eriteria and Djibouti, and a lot more than this. If we are talking about Qatar’s involvement in the regional issues, we care about our region and we want stability for our region and we want a better future for our region. But when it comes to the choice between people and some leaders who are authoritarian or waging wars against their own population. Then we will definitely stand with the people. When you mentioned that Qatar funded certain political armed groups in Syria. This is a misstatement. Because whatever we have done throughout the past years, we were doing through collective mechanisms, and everybody is seeing what is happening with our money. In Syria, we were jointly together working with the United States, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, France and England. It was one joint operation room that takes the funding for the armed groups because it was an international consensus to remove a war criminal from his place after he bombed his people with chemical weapon. In Libya, we were very coherent with the international resolution security council and we did not do anything out of this context. We worked hand in hand with NATO forces in 2011 to help the people . And when there was a dispute among them in 2015, they came up with an agreement and we continued to support the legitimate government. There are a lot of other countries that you didn’t mention here who are funding the different groups and militias and undermine the legitimate government. Qatar is not associated with any political party and is not associated with a certain agenda in the region. We want to see stability in the region. Qatar is not a political party.
Question: Thank you for your comprehensive answer. I have three short questions, what is the role of Qatar in trying to mediate the Gulf Crisis, can we expect someday a mediation between Iran and the US in order to deescalate the tension in the Gulf?
My second question is, you opened a link between Qatar and Russia, what is it today?
My third question is on Turkey. Two days ago Turkey announced a move in the Northern part of Syria. What do you expect of that and how can Qatar is looking at this new move which could add violence to violence?
Regarding your question about the situation in the Gulf, Qatar has a very strong alliance with the US which has been ongoing for 4 decades, and a friendly relationship with Iran which is a neighbor to Qatar and is a part of our region. Unfortunately when we were Blockaded by our neighbors and prevented from using their Airspace to cross, Iran opened its airspace and ports to us despite our disagreements on certain issues.
When the tension comes between our closest ally and neighbor who represents an existential need for Qatar. We always have an open channel with both countries and are continuously trying to deescalate the tension. We have never been asked by any of the countries to mediate between them but both countries have been responding positively to our calls for de-escalation. We hope that one day an agreement will take place between Iran and the US and Iran and the region.
As for our relationship with Russia, we are a country with strategic relations with a lot of countries which include Japan, the US, France and Germany and many others. We don’t see anything that prevents us from the relationship with Russia. Our relationship has been growing in a steady phase especially in the economic and energy sectors. Qatar and Russia are two of the largest Gas exporting countries in the world and we must continue to foster this understanding amongst each other.
Regarding Turkey, if we look at what happened in the last two days with the interventions of Turkey in the Northern Syria, we see that it happened due to the threat is represented to Turkey. I don’t think we have to blame Turkey when we didn’t try to help in solving the issue in the first place. There has been a negotiation for almost a year and a half to eliminate the threat on the border and this negotiation didn’t lead to anything. So now turkey has two options, either stay still and wait for terrorist groups to threaten the security of their borders or take an action which will not be liked internationally . what we want to assure you is that Qatar has a firm position on the integrity of Syria and we don’t accept any division over there, we do not want to see a demographic change and I believe Turkey has proven that they do not have a destructive role in Syria. What they have done in the Northern part of Syria, by helping the temporary government there, has already been proven to everyone. We hope that what is happening in the Northern part will ensure the security of Turkey, which is an important ally to not only Qatar but many European countries. But also it has a big participation from the Syrian opposition (the Free Syrian Army).