Today, I would like to start with a very simple question, which is: why is the Middle East such an important region?
For many years, the Middle East was a source of civilizations, for it was the origin of languages and birthplace of various religions. The Middle East was an international center for trade; connecting east to west. It was where people were able to communicate and participate with one another. At the heart of the Middle East was the coexistence and participation of people from different backgrounds and ethnicities. Unfortunately, things have now changed and we do not want them to go back to the dark ages. In the past, we were the source of enlightenment and today we do not want to the source of the world's turmoil.
I believe that most of the international challenges are occurring now in the Middle East. We find various ongoing conflicts such as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the humanitarian disaster in Yemen, the turbulent situation in Libya and its effects on Europe, Africa, and Sub-Saharan region, and the ongoing crisis in Iraq.
Then we have the most terrifying situation in modern history, which is the Syrian crisis. The conflict in Syria has been going on for seven years. The conflict began with simple demands from ordinary people who sought justice, demanded their rights and for reforms to be made. However, they were subjected to armed forces and bombing until the situation changed from the people's problems to a crisis of terrorism and extremism.
If we look at all these conflicts we will find different narratives, which usually use religion to justify them. However, if we look at all these crises we will find one common denominator. That denominator being those who want power and who seek power are always behind the creation of these crises. For example, if we look at the Syrian crisis, we find that the regime clings to power, and that has created a crisis that has claimed the lives of more than 500,000 people, and displaced more than 12 million people. All of this just for power. Extremism or nurturing extremism is a quest for control, and they do not rely on religion to create a religious state. Their approach is purely political. They use religion as a pretext to achieve their political vision. The issue is a game of power and influence. This idea is now being implemented everywhere.
The Gulf States have been the most stable region of the Middle East. The Gulf was the center of stability, an example of collective cooperation to achieve a common goal, which is to preserve the security of the region, create a more prosperous future, and achieve better economic integration to serve the future of their people.
I am sure everyone is aware that I am referring to Gulf region of a few months ago, the one before the crisis that appeared from nowhere. We found the Gulf States and the GCC as an organization, and specifically Qatar, were suddenly on the front pages of all media outlets talking about the Middle East. A crisis that is happening in one of the most stable areas of the region, in a region that is considered to be the source of energy in the world when it comes to oil, LNG, and economic prosperity, a region situated in a very complex neighborhood, and now a region for a new crisis within the same greater region.
What are the motives for this crisis? If I asked this question, everyone will answer with a different motive. Even I, the Foreign Minister of Qatar, who is supposed to have good knowledge of the causes of this crisis cannot give you a clear answer, because I cannot judge and assess on behalf of others, and I cannot guess on behalf of countries who are not willing to talk to me, yet.
This crisis began with an electronic attack. No one could have imagined the impact of a cybercrime and its consequences. It is now a phenomenon everywhere, in Europe, the United States, Asia and now the GCC. There is a fault in all these crises, why can't the international system solve or prevent any of these crises? Are we not in the era of preventative diplomacy? Are we not in the age of participation and dialogue, or are we going back to the era of confrontation and wars?
Qatar has been calling for dialogue as a way to resolve crises. Doha has been acting as an intermediary for peace. Qatar has mediated the completion of more than ten peace deals in this region, because we believe in dialogue. We believe that participation is the best way to find solutions to crises. Despite the fact that all these crises were created by those who seek power, we still believe that dialogue is the best way forward.
The international system has failed in meeting the needs of civilians, and protecting them from becoming part of any political conflict. We believe that the international system has failed to protect civilians in different areas of conflict such as Syria, Libya and now Qatar. We realize our people do not face the same difficulties as the Syrians, Yemenis or Iraqis, but they do face some difficulties. When our people's families are torn apart by political conflict and we have more than 26,000 cases of human rights violations is becomes a serious matter, and it is our duty and role as a government to provide protected to our people.
Why doesn't the international system, in the 21st century, have a mechanism to prevent this from happening? Why is there no real mechanism for protecting the Syrian people, the Qatari people, the people of the world and humanity from this escalation? I believe this is a very important global challenge and I hope that this gathering of politicians and intellectuals will come up with some recommendations for the international community, in order to empower and enable the international system to protect the people.
I don't want to take up too much time explaining our situation in Qatar, but I think our situation is quite similar to other cases. True it is not at the same level, and we hope it never reaches that level of tension. We hope that the crisis will be resolved very soon, not because we see that there are many challenges, but because the region is in a state of tension and we do not believe that this region can withstand further crises.
If we are talking about a region that can't afford additional crises then we are talking about a crisis that began without any basis. We hope that one day wisdom will prevail and that the countries that are trying to avoid participation and dialogue, and are avoiding addressing their security concerns, which are also our concerns, come to the negotiating table to resolve the problem. We have to learn from history and not from experiencing everything ourselves.
The whole world has witnessed similar conflicts and crises that have gone on for years and years without any of them being resolved on the battlefield of by confrontation, but rather at the negotiating table. We hope that all crises in the Middle East will be resolved around the same table.
Question: Jim Hocklin of the Washington Post. The United States has strong relations with Qatar but has taken a neutral stance regarding this crisis. At what stage will the United States' position affect the military relations between Qatar and the United States?
HE Foreign Minister: Relations between Qatar and the United States are very strong, especially in the military field, as well as other fields such as economy, investment and education. The military relations between Qatar and the United States have already been affected, not in terms of the strength of the relationship, but rather the global efforts to combat terrorism are affected by this crisis. When Doha hosts more than 11,000 US troops, as well as the center of command for the Global Coalition Against Terrorism, and our country is under blockade, of course it's affected. When our soldiers, who are fighting in the ranks of some of the blockading countries, are expelled this is certainly a direct impact on international efforts to combat terrorism, especially Daesh, there is an impact of joint training activity, and the Ministry of Defense has suspended any joint training between the Gulf States until this crisis is resolved.
There are a series of events that have had a major impact on the security relationship, not only the US-Qatar relations, but on the United States' relationship with the GCC and on the US policy towards the Middle East and countering terrorism.
With regard to the neutrality of the American position, the United States has been very consistent and clear in its position from the outset. They want to resolve the crisis. It is true that we are the country that is subjected to this aggression from these four countries and we expected more allies and friends to declare their rejection of the violation of international law and the humanitarian impact resulting from this crisis. The United States was at the forefront of these countries. They rejected the blockade and refused the continuation of this crisis. They are trying to advocate dialogue, but in any conflict, or crisis, there are always two sides, and if one of the sides is unwilling to participate and dialogue the crisis cannot be solved even if one of the parties is forced to the dialogue table, they will not come in good faith to resolve the problem.
Qatar will stick to its position that dialogue is the best solution, and when the others decide they want to solve the crisis, Qatar will be waiting for them at the negotiation table with our friends and allies, whether from the United States or other friendly countries.
Question: The Turkish government sent military forces for Qatari security. How strong is the military alliance with Turkey and how do you see the future of the relationship between the two countries?
The second question concerns a country closer to Qatar, Iran, which is geographically close of course. It has helped you with food and humanitarian aid. How do you assess the future of relations with Iran and how do you assess the future stability of the Gulf region between Iran and the Sunni monarchies on the other side of the Gulf?
HE Foreign Minister: Thank you. At first, with regard to your question about the Turkish forces, Qatar and Turkey have a strong and strategic bilateral relationship in the fields of defense, economy investment, trade. Turkey is an important regional state, a member of NATO, where we have relationships with a number of other NATO member states. Turkey's presence and the presence of some of their forces in Doha indeed does help ensure the security of our country. However, this falls within the context of a broader range of cooperation between our countries. Qatar also has its troops represented at the Incirlik base in Turkey, and our cooperation is governed by a cooperation agreement on military affairs.
In addition, Turkey is also part of the Global Coalition Against Daesh. Therefore, Turkey will remain an important regional player, strong partner and all of the State of Qatar. This does not contradict any other alliances or partnerships we have. For when you give up your sovereignty, cutting military ties with Turkey would only be the beginning. A day may come when are demanded to expel US forces from Qatar, cut off our defense relations with France and the same with the United Kingdom. To take orders to do this or not to do, and to impose on them and dictate them is simply unacceptable to any sovereign state.
As we have previously stated, this is reflected in their list of demands based on some security concerns. First of all, they need to understand that demands cannot be imposed on a sovereign state. In the event of conflict or disagreement there should be dialogue and understanding, not demands from one country to another. If they have any security concerns, we are ready to sit down and engage in dialogue to address these concerns, as we live in the same region and are exposed to the same threats.
Regarding the future of our relations with Iran. Our relations with Iran have been consistent for years. We have not changed our policies, even though we now face a different situation and circumstances. We have only one way to go North, whether to fly or to send shipments, which requires us to intensify our contacts with Iran. In the end there will always be political differences between Qatar and Iran, because policies are usually based on principles and assessments. How are we supposed to overcome these differences? Confrontation? It will not work, and it will never work, which is what we have been saying since 2015.
It is ironic that in 2015 when the comprehensive plan of action between Iran and Morocco signed, then US President, Barack Obama, called on all members of the GCC to come to Camp David to discuss and address their security concerns with Iran. Obama encouraged the Gulf States to engage in dialogue with Iran, and when President Rohani expressed his willingness to dialogue to the Emir of Kuwait, all Gulf leaders agreed to a principled dialogue. This agreement was in place until 2016. Now, when the president of the United States invited the same countries to participate in a dialogue regarding Qatar, no one wanted to engage in such dialogue.
Overall, our relations with Iran will be the same and the differences will still be there until they are overcome by addressing security concerns. We cannot tolerate further escalation, not only between Qatar and Iran, but between any country in the region and Iran. We believe in dialogue and participation. Iran is a neighboring country that share borders and a gas field with. There are several issues that we have to address through dialogue, and not by escalating or avoiding talking to each other without dialogue. The problems will remain and may even escalate to a level that would create another crisis, which the region cannot afford.
Question: Qatar has been a supporter of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. More recently there has been a rapprochement between Hamas and Egypt, and a reconciliation between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, which man consider it to be an Egyptian measure. Does this mean there is no distance between you and Hamas?
HE Foreign Minister: I would like to point out that the State of Qatar has never supported Hamas. Qatar has supported the people of Gaza, and the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip. It is true that Hamas is positioned in Gaza, but the support was very transparent and visible to everyone, including your government, and they know very well where the money goes. They know the contribution of this support to peace and stability in Gaza, which prevents any possible war there. We have adopted in our policies the principle of supporting the people and supporting the rebuilding of society and its ability to withstand as a means of peace and stability. We have witnessed stability since 2014.
Hamas' relationship with Qatar is no more than political representation, since it has an office in Doha. This office has been very useful to everyone. When Hamas had a representative office in Doha, Qatar was able to help with agreements that helped end two wars in 2008 and 2014.
Qatar has also contributed to the completion of national reconciliation, which is the first step towards a peace agreement between the Palestinians and Israelis. Now with the relationship between Hamas and Egypt, and Egypt's contribution to reconciliation; Qatar was the first country to welcome this reconciliation between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, because we believe in Palestinian unity as a precondition for any peace agreement, regardless of who mediated the reconciliation Qatar would welcome it. Qatar has pledged to finance the reconstruction of government facilities in Gaza, because we believe in Palestinian unity, not because Hamas is in Egypt now.
I think that the question needs to be asked to the countries that use this narrative, in the United States or Western. To justify their blockade on my country they claim that Qatar supports Hamas, when they didn't consider Hamas terrorists. Now they're talking about it and suddenly Hamas is in Egypt receiving praise from its government and other governments. Qatar's position has been very clear and transparent. We will continue to support the people of Gaza, because they are in dire need of it. We believe that our support and contribution to the restoration of Gaza have contributed to peace and stability in the region. We will be the first to celebrate national unity among the Palestinians.