Trump eases Qatar critique, offers to mediate Gulf spat

GULF-QATAR  FOOD

The main question is to what extent Saudi will succeed in pressuring the Qatari royal family to turn against the emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, said Mokhtar Awad, a research fellow at George Washington University's program on extremism.

"The President offered to help the parties resolve their differences, including through a meeting at the White House if necessary", it said.

The UAE, along with nine other countries, chose to cut ties with Qatar over its alleged support for terrorism.

S&P cut its long-term rating of Qatar by a notch, to AA- from AA, and put the country on negative credit watch, suggesting there was a likely chance of a further downgrade. Qatar's foreign minister rejected attempts to interfere in the country's foreign policy and said a "military solution" to the country's crisis with its Gulf neighbours was not an option.

A Qatari official, however, said the rift was pushing Doha in the direction of leaving the six-state Gulf Cooperation Council, founded in 1981, "with deep regret".

Iran, itself reeling from an attack by Islamic State militants that killed at least 12 people on Wednesday, has called for dialogue to solve the regional rupture, and its foreign minister was visiting the region to that end. Riyadh denied any involvement.

German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel accused Trump of fanning conflict in West Asia and risking a "new spiral in arms sales" with his remarks.

Sheikh Mohammed said Qatar would not shut down its Al-Jazeera news network, adding: "If anyone thinks they are going to impose anything on my internal affairs or my internal issues, this is not going to happen".

But he also said measures taken against Qatar this week by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other Arab nations were not aimed at seeking new leadership in Doha.

The UAE attorney-general said Wednesday that "any participation in conversation or social media or any other means that demonstrates sympathy to Qatar. may face a prison sentence of three to 15 years and a fine of no less than 500,000 dirhams ($136,000)". In 2016, 10 per cent of Qatar's exports went to the group of states that have blocked trade.

On Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ratified a fast-track decision by the Turkish parliament to send up to 5,000 troops to Qatar.

Trump's defence secretary, James Mattis, spoke to his Qatari counterpart to express commitment to the Gulf region's security. Qatar hosts 8,000 US military personnel at al Udeid, the largest USA air base in the Middle East and a launchpad for US -led strikes on Islamic State jihadists.

The sudden isolation has spurred Qatar to hold talks with Turkey, Iran and others to secure food and water supplies, said a Qatari official.

Qatar is home to the largest USA airbase in the Mideast.

Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi port authorities in the UAE have eased curbs on non-Qatari oil tankers going to and from Qatar, according to industry sources and shipping circulars seen by Reuters on Wednesday.

With a population lower than Houston's, Qatar is the world's No. 1 exporter of liquefied natural gas.

UAE-based newspaper Gulf News and pan-Arab channel Al-Arabiya reported the crackdown on expressions of sympathy with Qatar.

After severance of diplomatic ties earlier this week, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has chose to ban any form of sympathy with the tiny Gulf State of Qatar, threatening sympathizers with jail terms of up to 15 years and an AED 500 thousand fine.

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