The onerous list of demands includes stipulations that Doha close the broadcaster al-Jazeera, drastically scale back cooperation with Iran, remove Turkish troops from Qatar’s soil, end contact with groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and submit to monthly external compliance checks. Qatar has been given 10 days to comply with the demands or face unspecified consequences.
Saudi Arabia and the other nations leading the blockade – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt – launched an economic and diplomatic blockade on the energy-rich country a fortnight ago, initially claiming the Qatari royal family had licensed the funding of terrorism across the Middle East for decades. Since then, the allies appear to be pushing for the isolation of Iran and the suppression of dissenting media in the region.
The list of demands, relayed to Qatar via mediators from Kuwait, represents the first time Saudi Arabia has been prepared to put the bloc’s previously amorphous grievances in writing. Their sweeping nature would, if accepted, represent an effective end to Qatar’s independent foreign policy. According to one of the points, Qatar would have to “align itself with other Arabs and the Gulf, militarily, politically, socially and economically, as well as in financial matters”.
The UAE’s foreign secretary, Anwar Gargash, insisted the anti-Qatar alliance is not seeking to impose regime change. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that Qatar will see the demands as the basis for serious negotiations.
Qatar has become reliant on Turkey and Iran for food imports since the embargo was imposed on 5 June and insists with its huge wealth it can survive the embargo for an indefinite period.
Gargash blamed Qatar for the “childish” leak of its 13 demands and called it either an “attempt to undermine serious mediation or yet another sign of callous policy.
“It would be wiser that [Qatar] deal seriously with the demands and concerns of the neighbours or a divorce will take place,” he said.
Qatar faces a choice of either stability and prosperity or isolation, he said, adding: “Perhaps the solution is in parting ways.”
In a sign that the UK does not regard the demands as reasonable, foreign secretary Boris Johnson said on Friday: “Gulf unity can only be restored when all countries involved are willing to discuss terms that are measured and realistic.
“The UK calls upon the Gulf states to find a way of de-escalating the situation and lifting the current embargo and restrictions which are having an impact on the everyday lives of people in the region.”
US policy towards Qatar so far has been marked by confusion. President Donald Trump has appeared to take credit for the Saudi embargo and described Qatar as a haven for terrorism. By contrast, the State Department under Rex Tillerson has twice upbraided Saudi Arabia’s approach to Qatar and questioned its true motives in sparking the diplomatic crisis.
In recent days the State Department has been pressing Saudi to specify the actions Qatar must take to see the embargo lifted, but warned that those demands need to be “reasonable and actionable”.
The State Department spokesperson also declined to take a position on the specific Saudi demands, focusing instead on the need for the involved parties to resolve the dispute themselves through dialogue.
“We understand the Kuwaitis, in their mediation capacity, have delivered a list of demands to the Qataris,” a spokesperson said. “We encourage all parties to exercise restraint to allow for productive, diplomatic discussions.”
The US has a major military base in Qatar and risks seeing Qatar forced into an alliance with Iran if its enforced isolation continues, an outcome that would be a major strategic blow to Washington as well as a further threat to the security of the region.
Qatar’s UN ambassador, Sheikha Alya Ahmed bin Saif al-Thani, said the allegations that her country supports terrorism are “sabotaging our relationship with the world, with the west, tarnishing our reputation in a way by using the terrorism card”.
She said: “The blockade they have imposed is illegal. They used the terrorism card as a way of attracting attention. But the main objectives are more about criticising our media, al-Jazeera, and our openness.”
Al-Thani added: “We are small, but we have integrity.” She said on US broadcaster CBS that she believed the Saudi positioning was softening, but not that of the UAE. She hopes for a resolution but fears a prolonged chill: “They continue to escalate even though both Kuwait and the United States are playing an important role. We are confident of the US position toward the blockade.”
Al-Jazeera has condemned the call for its closure as “nothing but an attempt to end freedom of expression in the region, and suppress the right to information”.
Rachael Jolley, the editor of Index on Censorship, said: “From its treatment of blogger Raif Badawi to its tightly controlled media environment, the Saudi authorities must not be able to dictate access to information for the public in other countries. Al-Jazeera must not be used as a bargaining chip.”
But the Saudi-led alliance regards the Arabic wing of al-Jazeera, the most widely watched broadcaster in the Arab world, as a propaganda tool for Islamists that also undermines support for their governments. The list of demands also called for other Doha-supported news outlets to be shut, including the New Arab and Middle East Eye.
Other key demands mapped out by Saudi include Qatar severing all ties with terrorist groups, specifically the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State, al-Qaida and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. The ultimatum calls for the handing over of designated terrorists and other individuals by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. All contacts with the political opposition inside Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain would have to be halted with all files handed over that detail Qatar’s prior contacts with, and support for, opposition groups.
Qatar’s links with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s main adversary, would have to be confined only to trade allowed under the international sanctions regime and approved by the Gulf Co-operation Council.
Cutting ties to Iran would prove incredibly difficult – Qatar shares with Iran a massive offshore natural gas field, which supplies the small nation that will host the 2022 Fifa World Cup with much of its wealth.
Qatar would also be required to accept monthly external audits after agreeing to the demands, then once per quarter during the second year. It would also have to agree to be monitored annually for compliance for 10 years.
Turkey’s defence minister rejected suggestions that Doha should review its military base in Qatar and said demands for its closure represent interference in Ankara’s relations with the Gulf state.
Speaking on Thursday, before the 13 demands were tabled, Qatar’s foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, said his country had always abided by international laws and played a key role in the international coalition fighting Isis.
Additional reporting by Sabrina Siddiqui in Washington
The 13 demands in full
- Curb diplomatic ties with Iran and close its diplomatic missions there. Expel members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and cut off any joint military cooperation with Iran. Only trade and commerce with Iran that complies with US and international sanctions will be permitted.
- Sever all ties to “terrorist organisations”, specifically the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State, al-Qaida and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Formally declare those entities as terrorist groups.
- Shut down al-Jazeera and its affiliate stations.
- Shut down news outlets that Qatar funds, directly and indirectly, including Arabi21, Rassd, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed and Middle East Eye.
- Immediately terminate the Turkish military presence in Qatar and end any joint military cooperation with Turkey inside Qatar.
- Stop all means of funding for individuals, groups or organisations that have been designated as terrorists by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain, the US and other countries.
- Hand over “terrorist figures” and wanted individuals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain to their countries of origin. Freeze their assets, and provide any desired information about their residency, movements and finances.
- End interference in sovereign countries’ internal affairs. Stop granting citizenship to wanted nationals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Revoke Qatari citizenship for existing nationals where such citizenship violates those countries’ laws.
- Stop all contacts with the political opposition in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Hand over all files detailing Qatar’s prior contacts with and support for those opposition groups.
- Pay reparations and compensation for loss of life and other, financial losses caused by Qatar’s policies in recent years. The sum will be determined in coordination with Qatar.
- Consent to monthly audits for the first year after agreeing to the demands, then once per quarter during the second year. For the following 10 years, Qatar would be monitored annually for compliance.
- Align itself with the other Gulf and Arab countries militarily, politically, socially and economically, as well as on economic matters, in line with an agreement reached with Saudi Arabia in 2014.
- Agree to all the demands within 10 days of it being submitted to Qatar, or the list becomes invalid.