Turkey FM in Saudi for talks on Gulf crisis

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Turkis­h Presid­ent held a three-way call with French counte­rpart Emmanu­el Macron and the Qatar emir

PHOTO: AFP

PHOTO: AFP

MAKKAH, SAUDI ARABIA: Turkey’s foreign minister visited Saudi Arabia on Friday for talks aimed at resolving the Gulf diplomatic crisis, as Qatar accused its neighbours of imposing a devastating ‘siege’ on the emirate.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and others severed diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar almost two weeks ago, accusing Doha of supporting extremist groups, which Doha denies.

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Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who is trying to broker a solution, landed in Jeddah for talks with King Salman in the holy city of Makkah, a day after meeting his Kuwaiti counterpart. The emir of Kuwait, which did not cut ties with Qatar, has also been trying to mediate in the row.

Among the punitive measures imposed on Doha, Gulf states gave Qataris 14 days to get out and ordered home their own citizens living in Qatar. They also banned Qatar Airways from their airspace while Saudi Arabia also closed its land border through which much of Qatar’s food supply crossed.

Ali bin Smaikh al-Marri, chairman of Qatar’s national human rights committee, said the measures amounted to “collective punishment” and cited one case of a mother being separated from her baby. This had led to “gross violations of human rights”, Marri told reporters in Geneva, speaking in Arabic through a translator, pointing out that every Qatari family had at least one member living in other countries in the region. These measures “are harsher than the Berlin Wall that separated families”, he added.

Last week, US President Donald Trump expressed support for the Saudi-led allegations against Qatar, charging it had “historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level”.

Pentagon and State Department officials have since scrambled to reassure the emirate, which hosts the largest US airbase in the Middle East and the command headquarters for operations in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

The US and Qatari navies on Friday ended a three-day joint exercise involving nine vessels off Qatar’s east coast including gun boats as well as coastguard and supply ships. Among the tests carried out were air defence and surface missile simulation drills, according to a senior Qatari naval officer.

The crisis has put Turkey in a delicate position as Ankara regards Qatar as its chief ally in the Gulf but is also keen to maintain its improving ties with regional power Saudi Arabia. At the same time, Turkey is eager to maintain workable relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s foe.

Cavusoglu visited Doha on Wednesday where he called for dialogue after meeting Qatar’s emir and foreign minister ahead of his Saudi stop. “Although the kingdom is a party in this crisis, we know that King Salman is a party in resolving it,” Cavusoglu said earlier.

“We want to hear the views of Saudi Arabia regarding possible solutions and will share with them our views in a transparent way… We pay a great attention to our relations with them,” he said.

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As diplomatic efforts continued, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held a three-way call with French counterpart Emmanuel Macron and the Qatar emir. They underlined the need to “urgently lower tension” in the Gulf, Turkish presidential sources said.

Erdogan on Tuesday described the decision by Gulf states to cut political and economic ties with Qatar as “inhumane and un-Islamic”.

He stopped short of directly criticising Saudi Arabia and said that as “the elder statesman of the Gulf,” Salman should resolve the matter.

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