WASHINGTON — The United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to the United States said on Tuesday there was no military aspect to steps taken by Arab powers against Qatar, which they say is supporting terrorism.
He, however, said that further economic pressure could be applied.
“There is absolutely no military component to anything that we are doing,” UAE Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba told reporters in Washington.
He said he has been in contact several times with US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to assure him the US military base in Qatar, Al-Udeid, would not be affected by the crisis.
Otaiba said the measures against Qatar were not an attempt to have the base moved “but if anyone asks we’d be willing to have that conversation.” He pointed out a defense accord that the United States and the UAE signed last month would allow Washington send more troops and equipment there.
When asked what further steps could be taken against Qatar, Otaiba said: “We’ve designated 59 people and 12 entities. It’s likely that you could see designations of their bank accounts and perhaps of the banks themselves. And so there’ll be an escalation of economic pressure, again, short of a policy shift or negotiations that lead to a policy shift.”
Otaiba said the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt were compiling a list of demands for Qatar that would be “handed over to the United States fairly soon.”
He said they would broadly address the three areas of support for terrorism, meddling in the internal affairs of these countries and attacks through Qatari-owned media platforms.
He said the list would likely include expelling terrorists from Qatar and shutting down or curtailing Qatar-funded media outlets that attack UAE and others. He said Al-Jazeera, the Qatari-backed television network that has drawn particular consternation from Qatar’s neighbors, would likely be on the list of issues Qatar address would have to address.
Otaiba said the four nations are seeking a shift in Qatar’s behavior through economic and political pressure.
“It’s not our goal to undermine the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) but at the same time we don’t want a member of the GCC undermining us,” he said.
Otaiba said the White House was supportive of the Arab powers’ position.
Otaiba said both his country and the US had allowed “bad behavior” by Qatar to continue for “a very long time.”
“If I want to be honest, I think the reason action hasn’t been taken against Qatar is because of the air base,” Otaiba said, referring to Al-Udeid air base, not far from Doha. “The air base is a very nice insurance policy against any additional pressure.”
“Maybe someone in Congress should have a hearing and just say, you know, ‹Should we consider moving it?’” Otaiba said. “And maybe not moving the entire base. Maybe just distribute to various countries so you don’t have all your eggs in one basket.”
And he suggested American troops could be moved to his country, instead. Pointing to new defense cooperation deal the US and the UAE signed last month, Otaiba said the “infrastructure is in place” to have the conversation if the US wanted to relocate. — Agencies