Qatar’s ambassador to the US Sheikh Meshal bin Hamad al-Thani said the siege nations were carrying out a plan to mislead the US on the roots of terrorism, suggesting that they aim to divert attention from themselves.
Sheikh Meshal said he wanted to put across the message for US President Donald Trump and the American people was that Qatar remained a strong ally of the US and a reliable partner in the fight against terrorism.
Tampa Bay Times interviewed him before his meeting the US CentCom commander Gen Joseph Votel, Sheikh Meshal said Qatar was fulfilling an agreement with the US on a prisoner swap that led to the release of Sgt Bowe Bergdahl, who faces court-martial on a charge of desertion after walking away from his base in Afghanistan and spending five years in militant captivity.
When asked how the blockade was affecting Qatar, he said the biggest impact was the humanitarian one. “We have about 13,000 complaints and these are family separations, where mothers were forced to leave their kids, people lost their jobs because of this… and, if you are sympathising with Qatar, you get 15 years in jail. So, our primary focus is to make sure that we have a solution to that humanitarian aspect. And we are hopeful some breakthrough will come on that.”
On Trump’s tweets about Qatar after the blockade began and his reaction to them, the envoy said: “Qatar has not been approached by the blockading countries at any time to raise any concerns. In my view, what happened is that these blockading countries have misled the United States, have misinformed (the) leadership here in the United States, but we can see very quickly that the United States immediately understood what’s going on.” The message to the countries involved, according to him, is that de-escalation is important.
Replying to a query on whether the siege nations felt emboldened by Trump’s initial stance, Sheikh Meshal said he was convinced “this was a plan in the making and they had misled the US”. “And I underscore this. They have misled by providing false information about Qatar. Specifically, they talk about terrorism. I think the track record of Qatar is very clear. But I think it is also very important that they talk about their track record. We know where most of the banks are located who undermine US sanctions in Iran. The UAE was a concern in State Department reports that it is a country of concern when it comes to money laundering.”
Referring to 9/11, he said: “Where did those hijackers come from and who were they financed by? And also, where they came from exactly — Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Egypt. And I think it is very important to remind your readers that Qatar in the past stood by the United States when the Saudis asked the US to leave Saudi Arabia.”
Further, he said those levelling accusations against Al Jazeera did not want the people to understand the truth.
“That’s what they are afraid of. If they shut down Al Jazeera, no one else could give another voice. They don’t want any media, they don’t want any free speech. They want to impose what they feel is good for the region. Not what the people of the region want.”
Asked if he was concerned that the rift could further escalate, he said: “No, I don’t think so.
“Because I think all the parties involved understand the importance of resolving this. And don’t forget, it is very important, the whole GCC is a family. There is intermarriage, there are families and I don’t think this is going to be something really accepted by the people to go to war against your cousins and your brothers, so this has never been in our minds. So, at least that’s our perspective in Qatar. I think I can say I am sure it is the others’ too.”
On the status of the five Taliban leaders whose release was engineered in return for Bergdahl, Sheikh Meshal said there is an agreement between the US and Qatar on this issue. “I can’t reveal the details of this agreement, but I can tell you Qatar is making sure that whatever was agreed on with the US is enforced to the fullest.”
The envoy said he wished to give an assurance, during his meeting with Gen Votel, on Qatar’s commitments and also look to the possibility of how the relationship could be enhanced.
Photo: Gulf Times