Saint Petersburg / Information Office / June 04
HE Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani stressed that the State of Qatar has a wise leadership and a clear vision to be a reliable partner for peace and security in the region and the world, saying that Qatar has been a facilitating country and a mediator between the various conflicting parties and has proven its success for decades in this field, and it is not something new for Qatar but a continuation of the same path.
This came during his participation in a session entitled "West Asia and North Africa.. Paths Towards Stability and Prosperity," which was organized by the Doha Forum during the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum 2021.
On the recent developments in the Gaza Strip and the Israeli governments request from the United States for USD1 billion and military aid to restore the Iron Dome, HE the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs said that what led to the situation that happened in Gaza is not related to the restoration of the Iron Dome, or how strong or steadfast the Israelis are, but in fact with the behavior of the Israelis in Jerusalem recently, mainly the evacuation of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood and the provocation that occurred to the people trying to reach Al-Aqsa Mosque, most of whom are Muslims and Christians.
HE the Foreign Minister considered that all these behaviors angered the people in the West Bank and Gaza, and led to the latest round of violence, which unfortunately witnessed the killing of children, innocents, and civilians and the destruction of the Gaza Strip as a result of the recent raids, stressing the need to focus on building peace rather than focusing only on the resilience of one side or the other in the conflict.
In response to a question about the following countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council that will join the "Abraham Accords," along with the UAE and Bahrain, or is such a decision premature?, HE Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs said, "We cannot judge whether the decision was premature or mature enough. We see from our point of view in Qatar, which I can comment on, that the main reason for the lack of a relationship between us and Israel is the occupation of the Palestinian territories, and the reason is still there, still valid, and there is no step or any hope toward peace yet. We didnt see any light at the end of the tunnel." He pointed out that "back in the 1990s, after the Madrid and Oslo negotiations, there was some hope that we could achieve peace, and Qatar took the first step at that time and opened trade missions for exchange between Qatar and Israel and had a relationship until 2008 when the war in Gaza, however, we decided after that to close the offices because we believe that what we have done has not contributed anything to peace."
His Excellency explained, "Now we see that there are principles on which there is unanimity, one of which is the Arab Peace Initiative and the principles of the Quartet, and we believe that if there is a willingness on the Israeli side, which it has not demonstrated during the past decades, this will constitute a good starting point, which is the recognition of the Palestinian state, and then All Arabs can go ahead and then establish a relationship with Israel." He added, "So it's not really about a country on its own having a relationship with Israel because that's not a solution to the entire conflict, but I think we have to address the conflict first; at least for us from our point of view in Qatar, then we take the step to have the peace with Israelis."
On whether he is concerned that Naftali Bennett may not be the best person to make peace, HE Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said, "We cannot comment on something that is not known yet. There is a coalition that we have heard about that will form the new government, but it has not taken the oath yet, and no one knows what will happen in the next few days and whether there will be changes in conditions there," pointing out, "What we want is to see a government that has a vision of a Palestinian state, that has a vision that takes some serious steps toward peace and stops any action that provokes the Palestinians, especially with regard to Jerusalem, which is very sensitive for everyone, for Muslims, for Christians, for everyone."
HE the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs also expressed his belief that "any behavior that talks about new settlements, or what they call the activities of the settler communities, which led to the evacuation of Sheikh Jarrah, will not help in resolving the issue and will be counterproductive and keep us in this circle, a day of violence, a day of the cease-fire and so on," adding, "I think we need a government that leads a process towards achieving peace by recognizing the Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital."
Regarding the focus of the administration of US President Joe Biden on the Iranian file, Qatar's willingness in the past to facilitate discussions between the Taliban movement and the US, between other partners, and with Hamas and Qatar's vision to achieve peace and a two-state solution, HE Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said that Qatar has always been a reliable partner for peace and security in the region, and has facilitated and mediated between the various conflicting parties.
HE the Foreign Minister said, "About Iran and the United States, it is in our interest not only in Qatar, but also in the Gulf Cooperation Council states that there be an agreement between them, that there is an agreement that also stops the nuclear race that is taking place in our region, and it is in our interest not to see any escalation between the US And Iran, the United States is a strategic ally for Qatar, and we want to maintain this strategic alliance. Iran is our next-door neighbor, and we want to see stability over there."
HE the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs stated that if both parties request Qatar to participate in facilitating matters, Qatar will certainly do so. "Right now, we are just conveying the message for both parties to be more positive and more constructive in engaging with each other, and to reach a deal as soon as possible," he said.
On the US' designation of several movements in the region as terrorist organizations, and whether Qatar's willingness to facilitate negotiations between these parties puts it at odds with the US, HE the Foreign Minister said, "We respect each country's designation of the matter, which may sometimes apply to our regulations and sometimes may not, for example, one of the designated parties was (Taliban), but ultimately the US needed to talk to them to end this conflict.. and we think it is better for the US to have a friend to talk to its opponents and enemies instead of talking to their opponents through other enemies." He continued, "Therefore, I think that this has proven to be beneficial for everyone. Communication and maintaining this open channel with the various parties is in the interest of regional security and stability, which is what Qatar aims for. The existence of a communication or a relationship does not mean support or even belief in the same principles and ideologies. So there is a clear distinction between these two elements. Communication is only to help promote peace and stability because we believe in Qatar that no conflict will end militarily and all conflicts will end diplomatically."
Regarding the controversy surrounding Qatar during the past years due to the blockade and the accusations of its support for Hamas and extremist elements in Gaza and the financing of terrorist elements, HE Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said, "Unfortunately, this is part of the misinformation campaign that Qatar is exposed to. Our aid and money go directly to the people. We apply very strict mechanisms that everyone knows, including the Israelis and the United States. We also abide by all international rules and the US sanctions system because we are tied to the dollar in the end. Our banking system works transparently and in accordance with good governance practices. Our relationship with Hamas and the Taliban movements does not mean that we finance or support them."
HE the Foreign Minister added that Qatar aims with this relationship to establish contact and open a channel with them, adding that in Gaza now there is, unfortunately, a lot of misinformation spread by the Israelis, while they know very well how strict Qatar controls this process and where the money it contributes goes. Since 2012, Qatar has contributed USD1.4 billion to the reconstruction of Gaza, and has built 42,000 housing units, roads, hospitals, and schools, and is contributing to the care and maintenance of those facilities, he pointed out.
On whether any of this money found its way into the pockets of the Palestinians, HE the Foreign Minister said, "Of course, it is a very tight process by which all the materials are managed and all the contracts are prepared through our reconstruction committee. Our employees are there on the ground and they are working by themselves now. In the last three years, if we take that period as an example, Gaza has been getting electricity for only two hours a day at first, and when Qatar intervened, it increased that period to 16 hours."
His Excellency also asked, "Where do we get fuel from?", explaining"It is obtained from the Israeli side and sent to the Electricity Company of the Palestinian Authority, which generates electricity for the people of Gaza, and this support represents 50 percent of the money that Qatar donates monthly to Gaza, and the remaining 50 percent goes to 230,000 poor families in Gaza, each of whom receives USD100."
HE the Foreign Minister said, "I have here a big question about it: Will this USD100 finance Hamas, or will it build its weapons system or anything the Israelis claim?" explaining that "Another part of the money goes to financing the work of the United Nations Development Program, and we are working in full coherence with the United Nations, we have a well-defined coordination mechanism with our international partners." He added, "For three years we have been inviting all international partners to participate, and there was no one except Qatar and a few countries. Gaza needs a lot, especially since, as you know, for 14 years it has been an open prison for 2.1 million people who are under siege and cannot move."
About the shift in Western media coverage of the recent war in the Gaza Strip, HE Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said that the people are aware of what happened in Sheikh Jarrah and the evacuation of people there appears to be ethnic cleansing and aggression against Al-Aqsa Mosque, unfortunately, some media outlets turned from the main cause to what happened later between Gaza and Israel, and shortened the conflict to be between Hamas and Israel, while it has spread all over there.
His Excellency added that there may have been some improvement in some coverage, but the prevailing narrative there is still that it is a war between a small group of the Palestinian people and the Israelis, While the reality is different, it is a conflict between the Palestinian people, who live under occupation and have no state, and another country that has a strong army.
On whether he expects Syria to return to the Arab League in the near term, HE the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs stated, "We have been hearing this question for a long time, and a lot has been said about Syria's return to the Arab League over the past two years, and some the countries in the Arab League demand that and support such a thing, but our main question is: What prompted the suspension of Syria's membership in the Arab League in the first place?" adding, "I think the question is still valid, especially since there are still, I believe, 6.7 million refugees outside the country, and more than 6 million internally displaced persons, and there is still a conflict between the Syrian people and the regime, so why do we change our position that we took in 2011 or 2012 by suspending Syria and now we want to return it?.. What did the regime do to make us return it to the Arab League?.. I think that there are serious steps that must be taken to reach a political settlement in Syria before considering that matter from our point of view."
On whether His Excellency believes that it is wrong to restore diplomatic relations with Syria at this stage, HE Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani explained that this is a sovereign decision of every country, pointing out that Qatar does not intend to restore diplomatic relations with Syria, as long as the reasons for its severance remain, if there is progress in the political settlement, then Qatar will consider its options.
On the UAE's quest to become a major influence in the region, and Saudi Arabia's guidance of the policy of the GCC countries, and his vision of Qatar's role, HE the Foreign Minister said that looking at the GCC countries, the six countries can complement each other to bring stability to the region, as the GCC has been a stabilizing factor in this region, adding that the UAE has chosen for itself to be a soft power in the region, it is a good thing that the effect is for peace and security, and that is what Qatar seeks for. He further explained that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will remain a very important country, as it is the largest country in the GCC and Makkah and Madinah are in it, pointing out that Qatar is also blessed with natural resources and has leadership and vision to be a reliable peace and security partner in the region, and it has been a facilitating country and a mediator between the various parties with proven success in this field for decades, it is nothing new for Qatar but a continuation of this path.
Concerning whether the Middle East can afford Lebanon to become another failed state after Palestine and Syria, HE the Minister said "Unfortunately, there are now countries in a critical stage, for example, Libya, and we believe that they will move to the stage of stability after the elections. As for Iraq, it is trying, after the war against ISIS, to reform some laws, especially after the recent protests, and the Prime Minister is trying will arrange for the upcoming elections, and we hope that these elections will bring national unity to Iraq, not sectarian elections."
HE Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani expressed his belief that many Arab countries are either in a gradual stage to achieve stability, or in a fragile stage, for example, Sudan, which is witnessing some small progress but faces many challenges such as economic and geopolitical challenges.
His Excellency stressed, "We do not want to see a country collapse. Lebanon is very important and it is now in a very dangerous situation, but unfortunately, the political parties there do not agree to form a new government, and now the Central Bank of Lebanon will stop financing the government shortly, and it will become government without a budget."
He pointed out, "There are many poor families who depend a lot on government subsidies, and we are doing our best, and France is also doing its best, to get Lebanon out of this crisis, but we have not seen any result so far. Our advice has always been to the Lebanese to settle their differences and to look forward to the interest of the people, but unfortunately, we have not seen any such serious steps."
Regarding what is most worrying about the Iranian nuclear negotiations, HE the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs said that the State of Qatar's vision, which HH the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani mentioned several times, is to have a regional security framework for dialogue between Iran and the GCC countries and to address Iran's concerns toward the GCC countries or the GCC countries' concerns toward Iran. His Excellency expressed his belief that what is important for the region is stopping enrichment and the nuclear race because it will affect regional and global security.
HE the Foreign Minister also added, "As for the political differences between Iran and the GCC countries, we believe that these differences can be resolved through dialogue between the GCC and Iran directly. I think that this will be a good opportunity if we build this dialogue based on our common interests. I am sure there are many things in common that we can build in this dialogue for the prosperity of our region and people." He urged the neighbors in the GCC countries and Iran, to sit around the table and put their fears to rest based on the common interest.
On whether the State of Qatar has ongoing talks with Iran about this dialogue, HE Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani replied, "Yes, we have ongoing talks with Iran, and Iran is serious about the idea of regional dialogue, and there is a kind of understanding from our partners in the GCC on the necessity of this regional dialogue."
"We believe it's important that we have the leadership of such a dialogue and not leave it for other countries," he said. "We appreciate and respect (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council) to be part of this, to be (a) supporter for this, but the core of this dialogue should be handled by the GCC and Iran."
Regarding the role of the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), the investment situation, and economic outlook in today's world, HE the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs said that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the global economic landscape, created many opportunities, and stopped some businesses that were growing in previous years. He pointed out that QIA is focusing heavily on diversifying Qatar's economy, and this means creating an alternative energy source for hydrocarbon, adding that Qatar's natural resources are managed by Qatar Petroleum, and the QIA is the arm that helps and supports the government to create alternative energy sources for future generations.
His Excellency continued, "We are very much focused on sustainable investments whether it's in technology, infrastructure, education, healthcare, and those sectors prevailed even during the (COVID-19) pandemic."
"And one important element we are looking at is to apply it to our matrix which should have any economic impact for the country that we are investing in and for Qatar and its environmental impact for the globe," he added.
"We are very much focused and determined even with the pandemic. I believe most of the sovereign wealth fund has done very well in terms of investments in the last year, and we hope that we continue like this.
"It is very important to keep our strategy very dynamic given the change in the dynamics in the world, (it) is getting much faster than before," HE the Minister said.
In response to a question about the importance of technology, digital assets, and diversification of assets, HE Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said that it was very important even before the pandemic, and historically QIA has focused on financial assets, real estate, and traditional assets, but in recent years it has redirected its strategy to focus on technology and education, for example, the distance education, which QIA invested in since 2018 and when the pandemic came, these companies became among the leading companies. "For us, technology and digitization is a very important element and I think it is an infrastructure goal. We have seen an expansion in communications technology."
About digital and cryptocurrencies, HE the Foreign Minister said, "For us, as a sovereign wealth fund, we look very carefully how risky is the investment because we believe that we are managing funds for our children, our grandchildren, for the next generations to come, not for ourselves to enjoy for a short term."
"Digital currency is still unclear there is no certainty about it, maybe in the coming years it will be strengthened, it will be something more popular and it will get much better value and this will be good for the early investors but we would rather have less return but be on a solid ground," he said. HE the Minister stressed that they have no plans to get into the crypto space anytime soon.
On the future of the QIA in the next ten years, HE Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said that the goal is to have a balance between financial services, technology, infrastructure, healthcare, and education, as QIA focused at the beginning on financial services and real estate, now it is investing mainly in infrastructure, technology, healthcare, and education. "Diversification in terms of sector and geography is key for us," he added.
On the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on tourism and preparations for the 2022 Qatar World Cup, HE Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said that the people will not stop traveling and tourism, which is seen in Saint Petersburg, as there are many people and everyone wants this pandemic to end as quickly as possible because they want to return to their normal lives, adding there is an impact on the work of hotels because of the pandemic, that needs a year or two years to return to normalcy.
His Excellency added that concerning the upcoming World Cup, Qatar is ready to host the 2022 Qatar World Cup even if there is uncertainty about the duration of the pandemic and how the vaccines will work. He added that Qatar has prepared an alternative plan to ensure that all people who will attend the World Cup have been vaccinated and tested to provide them with the maximum experience they would like to see at the World Cup. He expressed the belief that the World Cup will be a happy celebration for people after two years of lockdown, so Qatar is focused on organizing an amazing World Cup.
Regarding the talks of leaders of airlines and governments about opening countries to tourists and vaccinations programs, HE the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs said, "For us, we are talking with the countries that are currently closed... and we are following up with them what is the situation there, and I believe that during the coming months when the vaccination campaign achieve the level they aim for, they will open their countries," expressing the hope that by the end of 2021 most of the world will have been vaccinated and the travel ban will be lifted."
In response to a question about Qatar's plans to host the 2032 Olympic Games, HE Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said that at the moment Qatar is in an ongoing dialogue with International Olympic Committee (IOC), therefore, they cannot comment, explaining that Qatar has planned something that is fully consistent with the Qatar National Vision, and the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals, and there is a lot of investment underway for the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, and the country's infrastructure has been built, so Qatar will focus on delivering a sustainable, environmentally friendly, economic and social impact.
His Excellency added, "The region has been deprived of such events as the World Cup and the Olympics, and Qatar is trying to seize this opportunity to bring this to the region because we believe that the benefit of the entire region, and we have a proven legacy that supports successful sporting events since the Asian Games and all tournaments after that, and we hope and dream about the 2022 World Cup. I think Qatar is proving even more that it is capable of hosting a world-class event like the World Cup."
On the blockade imposed on the State of Qatar, HE Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said that it is an unfortunate incident that occurred and divided the GCC countries, and Qatar is looking forward to overcoming this issue, but also learning from this experience, adding that the GCC countries have been divided for years and lost a lot of cooperation, therefore, at present, the important thing is to maintain and protect the GCC from being divided in the future, and building positive and constructive relations with the neighbors and building common interests.
He explained that many areas can be built between Qatar and other GCC countries and between our peoples who build a better future that is not subject to any conflicts, adding that any country that has gone through this crisis will be on solid ground in the future.
On Qatar's differences with Saudi Arabia and the UAE previously, HE Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said that it is a very sensitive issue and the GCC needs some time to heal. He stated Qatar is positive, and the GCC partners are also positive. He pointed out Qatar is a forward-looking country and it wants to build friendly relations with everyone, adding that the commonalities between the GCC countries are more than the differences, therefore, let us focus on the common denominators and leave the differences. "There is a new page in the GCC, we are optimistic about it," he said.