No blockade of Qatar, they are free to go: Saudi minister

No blockade of Qatar, they are free to go: Saudi minister
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir with Rex Tillerson

Riyadh - Adel Al Jubeir is in Washington for talks with US Secretary of State; insists moves to isolate Qatar were reasonable


Published: Wed 14 Jun 2017, 10:07 PM

Saudi Arabia insisted on Tuesday that its neighbour Qatar was not under blockade as a Gulf diplomatic dispute escalated amid increasing international concern over its effects on ordinary people.

The gas-rich emirate's only land border is with the Saudi kingdom, and the closure of both it and Saudi, Bahraini and Emirati airspace to Qatar Airways flights has caused major disruption.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir, in Washington for talks with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, insisted that moves to isolate Qatar were reasonable.

Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies accuse Qatar of supporting "terrorism" in the region, while Doha's supporters have warned of a humanitarian crisis.

"There is no blockade of Qatar. Qatar is free to go. The ports are open, the airports are open," Jubeir said alongside a silent Tillerson who had called last week for the embargo on Qatar to be "eased".
Also read: Measures against Qatar do not target citizens, says UAE cabinet

"The limitation on the use of Saudi airspace is only limited to Qatari airways or Qatari-owned aircraft, not anybody else," Jubeir said.

"The seaports of Qatar are open. There is no blockade on them. Qatar can move goods in and out whenever they want. They just cannot use our territorial waters."

But President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, a Doha ally, denounced Qatar's economic and political isolation.
Turkey is in a delicate position as Ankara regards Qatar as its chief ally in the Gulf, but it is also keen to maintain its improving relations with regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia.

Erdogan was to hold three-way phone talks on the crisis later Tuesday with French President Emmanuel Macron and Qatar's emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.

Doha's ambassador to the European Union, Abdul Rahman Al Khulaifi, said Tuesday Qatar was "astonished and surprised when we hear voices who say we are supporting terrorism".

The Gulf states on June 5 ordered Qataris to leave within 14 days and also banned their own citizens from travelling to Qatar.

The knock-on effects of the crisis are not confined to the Gulf.

Al-Udeid, the largest US airbase in the Middle East, is in Qatar and is a key facility in the fight against Daesh in Syria and Iraq.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi King Salman discussed the crisis on Tuesday, with Putin warning that isolating Qatar would make finding a peaceful end to the war in Syria more difficult.

Their talks "touched on the aggravated situation around Qatar, which unfortunately does not help consolidate joint efforts in resolving the conflict in Syria and fighting the terrorist threat," a Kremlin statement said.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, speaking in Norway, said it was "absolutely imperative" to resolve the row through dialogue and to "establish a permanent mechanism for consultation, conversation and conflict resolution in our region."

As the crisis simmered, Washington's envoy to Doha tweeted on Tuesday that she was leaving her post.

Dana Shell Smith did not say why she was stepping down, but in Washington officials said she had made a personal decision to leave earlier this year after a normal three-year tour.

Smith was appointed ambassador by US President Donald Trump's predecessor Barack Obama in 2014.

Last month in another tweet she appeared to express dissatisfaction with political events back home.

After Trump's dramatic sacking of FBI director James Comey, she wrote: "Increasingly difficult to wake up overseas to news from home, knowing I will spend today explaining our democracy and institutions."

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