*“The situation in the Middle East needs to be addressed”
The Middle East has moved from a bad to worse situation in the last decade due to its crises, HE the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said.
He was referring to the blockade of Qatar and the problems of Lebanon, Syria, Libya and Yemen while addressing a special session on the sidelines of the Mediterranean Dialogue Conference in Rome on Thursday.
“The situation in the Middle East needs to be addressed,” HE Sheikh Mohamed told the session with journalists, Declan Walsh, the New York Times correspondent from Cairo, and Middle East Editor David Hearst.
Answering a question on Qatar being called a funder of terror by President Trump and later on being called a friend, HE the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs said: "We can’t base policies of entire countries on tweets. US institutions were against the blockade and have great relations with Qatar and they mentioned that Qatar is a partner of the US. This was mentioned by the State Department, the Department of Defence, the Department of Treasury.
“They had also commended Qatar’s role in counterterrorism. The president’s initial statement may have been derived from false information that was given to him at that time, perhaps even by the blockading countries. At the end we see that the truth will prevail, and that what has happened.
"I am sure that American institutions have shown the president that Qatar is a strategic ally and not a financier of terrorism. The war on terror starts from the bases in Qatar.
“A massive propaganda campaign was started against Qatar and in time everyone realised this was not true. The veil has been uncovered. The same methods were used against any country that opposed their policies - take Canada for example,” he noted.
In response to a question about the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, HE Sheikh Mohamed said: "What happened with Khashoggi is heartbreaking and we believe that the international community is expecting the investigation to be concluded, and the criminals to be held accountable. And after this investigation we believe that there is a lot of reparation to be done and none of these will bring Khashoggi back.”
He recalled that at the beginning of the Gulf crisis the misuse of social media, especially by the blockading states, was noticed especially with the propaganda campaign against Qatar, and against the Qatari people.
“Trying to change the perception has shown that we have a society around us that does not understand how to practise freedom of speech. They did not calculate the damage against them and their reputation and their future. What has been done over the first few months of the blockade was very damaging to the GCC’s reputation.
“All social media could have been put to a much better use for positive change and not negative change, to change the mentality of the people to open their hands and to encourage progressive thinking not towards hate speech.”
On the war in Yemen, HE Sheikh Mohamed said: "I have seen promises that the Yemen war was going to stop. We saw the US State Department’s statement about stopping operations of Hodeidah. We need to see proper engagement among the Yemeni people. We do not want to see external players taking advantage of the situation.”
People of Yemen, he added, are paying the price. Any country with more than 20% of its people are at risk of starvation is considered a disaster. In Yemen 70% are at risk. It is catastrophic. Not to mention the danger of the spread of diseases. The situation in Yemen needs a solution and we hope the international community would provide a solution.
“The war in Yemen started for two reasons - to restore the legitimate government and to highlight the security threat along the Saudi border. None of these have been achieved until now, many people are paying the price still and the security threat has increased.
“Since these two objectives have not been achieved, the only way forward is to bring the Yemeni people together and to move ahead and stop in the war establish a peace process.
“The security threat has increased, there is threat on Saudi cities which is a dangerous threat to the peace in the region. We need to stop this war and recalculate.”
Answering a question on Qatar being a part of the Saudi coalition, the foreign minister said Qatar does not regret being a part of the coalition.
“Our mandate was to protect the Saudi border. The main objective of this coalition was eliminating the security threat and restoring the legitimate government and we have not diverted from that mandate.”
On Qatar's view of what Saudi Arabia and the UAE were doing in Yemen, HE Sheikh Mohamed said: “We still see them continuing with the same behaviour. Not responsive to calls of fixing these issues. We see a continuation of this recklessness in dealing with regional security.”
Answering a question about Qatar’s relations with Iran and the US, he said: "The US is definitely a strategic ally. However, we cannot change geography. Iran is a neighbour and we share a gas field with them, we use their airspace since that is the only airspace available after the blockade, and our supply comes from Iranian ports as they are a part of this region.
“There is a dispute between the US and Iran and for us it is not a comfortable situation. If there is a way for Qatar to fix this situation, then it will. Qatar has been a mediator and a facilitator for many adversaries. At the end we want a stable region, a nuclear weapon-free region. We need to work on coexistence,” he said.
Answering questions on the World Cup 2022 in Qatar and how does he think the mega event will help the country, HE Sheikh Mohamed said football is a message of peace and Qatar’s aim was to spread this message and to change the West’s perspective on the Arab world. “Unfortunately some have started to use this for their political gains against the Qatar,” he said.
"We saw that the World Cup also brought positive change to Qatar, for example our labour laws were reformed. We found that the situation of workers was not perfect and we aimed towards fixing that. International organisations have noticed what Qatar has reformed and they commended us.
On a statement by the FIFA president on expanding the teams in the upcoming World Cup, the foreign minister said he is sure Qatar will host the best World Cup and if there is room for co-operation with other countries, it is always welcome.
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