Qatar said it is under an “illegal siege” by the Saudi-led alliance, which raised the stakes in the diplomatic crisis by encouraging the U.S. to move a key military base from the tiny Gulf state.
The decision by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to sever diplomatic and transport links can’t be described as merely a “boycott,” Qatar said in a statement carried by the official news agency on Wednesday. The country has enough food and medical supplies, according to the statement, an apparent response to Saudi Arabia’s offer of aid late Tuesday.
The response signaled the world’s biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas is preparing for the dispute with its neighbors to drag on, after both sides stepped up efforts to win support from the U.S. over the past week. Yousef Al Otaiba, the U.A.E.’s envoy in Washington, said the Trump administration should consider moving its air base out of Qatar, the Associated Press reported, a decision that — while extremely unlikely — would leave Qatar without a significant insurance policy in the crisis.
The U.S. has around 10,000 troops in Qatar, as well as the forward headquarters of the military’s Central Command that’s conducting air campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. The U.S. Department of Defense is likely to “resist very strongly” any suggestion of moving the Al Udaid base, according to Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, Middle East fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute.
“Al Udaid offers the U.S. facilities that are, at the moment, unmatched in the Gulf, and cannot simply be replicated elsewhere, at least not overnight,’’ Ulrichsen said on June 6 in an email. Still, “moving the base would be a big blow for Qatar as having CENTCOM was an external security guarantee that has, for decades, underpinned Qatar’s regional security stance.”
There have been conflicting signals from the U.S. over the dispute. Trump said on Friday he backed the Saudi-led movement because Qatar has historically “been a funder of terrorism at a very high level.” He spoke after a more conciliatory statement from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who urged the easing of a “blockade” he said was hindering the fight against Islamic State and causing food shortages.
Al Otaiba said that wouldn’t happen, according to AP, adding that he didn’t see the crisis escalating into a military conflict.
The United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis as quickly as possible, and criticized the U.A.E. and Bahrain for threatening to fine or imprison people who expressed sympathy for Qatar.
“It is becoming clear that the measures being adopted are overly broad in scope and implementation, and have the potential to seriously disrupt the lives of thousands of women, children and men, simply because they belong to one of the nationalities involved in the dispute,” he said in a statement.
The Saudi-led alliance cut ties with Qatar last week, in an unprecedented move designed to punish it for its links with Iran and extremist groups in the region. Qatar again denied the charges on Wednesday, and said it would not take any reciprocal punitive measures against Saudi Arabia and its allies.
Qatar “completely rejects linking its name with false allegations on financing of terrorism or even claiming its failure to fight terrorism,” the statement cited the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as saying. The bloc’s actions are “aimed at putting the State of Qatar, its citizens and residents under pressure to achieve political purposes.”
Qatar has also expressed its frustration at not receiving specific demands from the Saudi alliance, which it said made a diplomatic solution impossible to reach. Al Otaiba told reporters the Saudi-led alliance would “fairly soon” provide a list to the U.S., AP said.