29 January 2018
Spokesperson: Good morning everyone. My name is Lulwah Al-Khater, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I'm very glad to be here with you this morning to brief you about the strategic dialogue and then we will open up the floor to questions and answers on the dialogue and other topics.
Early last week, both the State Department in the U.S and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Qatar, announced that tomorrow, January 30th would be the scheduled date for the Qatar-US Strategic Dialogue. For us, this is an important moment because it marks 45 years of American-Qatari relations, which are strong and deep relations at all levels and in various military, defense and security fields, as well as in areas of economy, investment, education and culture. With regard to the Qatari delegation, it will include representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Energy. Our US counterparts will include the State Department, the Department of Defense, the Treasury and the Ministry of Commerce, as well as representatives from various institutions on both sides. With regard to the strategic dialogue's program, it will start in the morning with a high-level opening ceremony followed by six sessions spanning the different fields that will be covered by the dialogue. These issues include regional issues, foreign affairs, military issues, trade investment issues, counterterrorism, energy and commercial sessions.
There will be several Memoranda of Understanding, as well as Letters of Intent and agreements. All of them will be announced tomorrow. However, allow me to give you an idea about them, there is the Qatar-US Strategic Dialogue itself, which provides for this dialogue to be an annual event. It will be held this year in Washington and next year it will be held in Doha and so on. There are also other Memoranda of Understanding, such as cooperation in combating human trafficking, cooperation in cybersecurity, energy and smart cities. There are some military agreements and the Minister of Defense will hold his own session tomorrow to explain these agreements at more depth. So there will be important announcements, and then there will be the dialogue itself. So as I have mentioned, this is the program agreed upon for tomorrow.
Let us now open the floor to your questions about the dialogue itself, but also other issues – I mean everything you can think of in terms Qatar's foreign policy.
Journalist: Barsha Mohammed. I have two questions. My first question of course is regarding Qatar Airways' agreement to provide additional information on maintenance. Could you tell us more information, because it's one of the most important issues, as you know, that American airlines claim that Qatar Airways gets unfair support.
Spokesperson: I believe, you're referring to the open skies negotiations. This is in fact on the agenda for the dialogue. So, negotiations are continuing and we believe that there might be an agreement very soon. There is a possibility that this will be announced as part of or after the dialogue. Negotiations are ongoing.
Journalist: Can you go into detail, now?
Spokesperson: No, not the technical details.
Journalist: Can you tell us anything more about Qatar intercepting a UAE aircraft, and whether this is a sign of escalating tensions in the region?
Spokesperson: This accusation is absolutely baseless, we have issued a statement on the same day. To us this is media propaganda from the UAE's side. They did threat several times that they would take the matter to the security council, but that did not happen yet. Unlike, for example, when Qatar had serious and genuine concerns regarding military UAE aircrafts violating the skies of Qatar. Qatar took that to the Security Council immediately. We have taken normal legal actions, but as far as the UAE is concerned, I can say that it is more of a media propaganda than anything else.
Journalist: I have a general question about whether you can summarize the kind of relationship you see with the Trump administration at this particular time, and given some of the things that President Trump has said, and the closeness of this White House with Saudi Arabia?
Spokesperson: The fact that we will host a dialogue tomorrow speaks volumes of the relationship between the Qatar and the United States, as it is a very deep relationship on all levels. There was a recent phone call between His Highness the Emir of Qatar and President Trump. In that telephone conversation, the President expressed his satisfaction and appreciation for Qatar's role in the fight against terrorism. So, I would say the relations are at their best.
Journalist: Were you caught off guard when the president decided to endorse the decision of the other countries to cut off Qatar?
Spokesperson: I wouldn't call it a decision, it was no more than general remarks. On the ground, all institutions from both sides cooperated and worked together. Only three weeks ago, there was a summit in Riyadh, if you recall, in fact there was a meeting between His Highness and President Trump. During this particular meeting, President Trump, once again, applauded the Qatari efforts in combating terrorism in particular. Some remarks were made in the middle, probably based on some inaccurate reports. However, no action was taken on the ground. In fact, the opposite happened because President Trump appointed Secretary Tillerson to mediate and, of course under the Kuwaiti mediation in terms of the GCC crisis.
Journalist: Secretary Tillerson expressed some frustration the last time he came to the region. It was regarding something about progress on this front since the last time. Do you think this mediation will do anything more?
Spokesperson: Are you referring to the GCC crisis, specifically?
Spokesperson: From our side, we have responded to every single call that was made, in terms of going to the table of negotiations and the Kuwaiti mediation. As well as, President Trump's invitation to all parties involved in the conflict to go to camp David. Qatar was the only country that responded to the invitation. Unfortunately, we have not seen any openness from the other three Gulf states, and of course Egypt. Therefore, we have not seen any response.
Journalist: Do you feel the United States is still mediating or still trying to mediate, or is its mediation fruitless?
Spokesperson: No, the efforts are still there. However, I should say, that for us in Qatar we are beyond this crisis. I mean, all of our plans now economically and politically are focused on strengthening bilateral relations with different countries around the world. His Highness the Emir has made several trips to Africa, Asia and Europe. So, we are beyond the blockade, and our plans regardless of this blockade will continue. Our economy, our GDP in Qatar in terms of growth in 2017 is the highest in the GCC, ironically. It is also expected to be the highest this year as well.
Journalist: So when you say the Emir is beyond the blockade. Does that mean you are accepting that as the status quo? Do you think there will be no change?
Spokesperson: We have genuine concerns about the status of the families who have been separated. There are about 26,000 human rights violations. There was a report that was issued recently by the United Nations – Human Rights Report – the significance of that report is that it is the first report by a United Nations entity that documents all those violations. According to the report, there are 26,000 violations, and thousands of families have been separated. There are violations in terms of real estate and the ability of Qatari citizens to access their property. In addition to violations against the people of the blockading countries, because some of those who sympathized -for example- towards Qatar were put in jail. The report also specifically refers to hate speech. The report describes the rhetoric used in the media in the blockading countries can only be described as hate speech.
Again, to address your question. Yes, we are concerned about the human rights violations, but beyond that in terms of the resilience of the Qatari economy we are 100% confident that we are beyond the blockade. We continue to strengthen our partnerships through the Hamad Port, being one of the largest in the region. We have also established new routes to India, Asian countries, and of course Kuwait and Oman. So, again in that sense we are beyond the blockade.
Journalist: Despite the Kuwait mediation and the United States' desire to mediate, it seems there was no clear message. Do you have a message that you want to address specifically to the Saudi, Emirati and Egyptian authorities?
Spokesperson: Yes, absolutely. The message is very simple and straightforward. Our region cannot can't bear more crises. What is happening is undermining the security of the entire region. If the claimed objectives of Saudi Arabia and the UAE are genuine, or are to be taken as genuine, their policies have turned out to be counterproductive. This is all with regards to talking about the policies towards Iran? Is it not? But let's look at their policies in Lebanon, Qatar and Yemen. All the policies ended up reinforcing the Iranian influence in the region. For example, look at what they did with Saad Al-Hariri, their own ally in Lebanon.
With regard to the situation in Lebanon, a political vacuum has been created, and who will fill this vacuum? So, this is the message, they are undermining the security of the region, and our region can't take more crises
Journalist: A follow-up related to the airspace. The State Department briefed us yesterday and told us that this agreement was set and very specific. These agreements were made based on what Qatar promised to do, and what the United States is doing. Do you suggest that these negotiations are still ongoing?
Spokesperson: As I spoke earlier regarding the open skies agreement. This is still part of the dialogue, and we expect something to be announced very soon, this is as much as I can say at this point.
Journalist: What more would you like to see the Trump administration do to help breach the division between Qatar and some of the other GCC countries. What more could they do?
Spokesperson: I think one thing that can be done is to look at this issue as part of a series of other issues. Reckless and shortsighted policies that have become a pattern, and that must be explained clearly to the Saudis and Emiratis. Look at what's been happening in Yemen over the past two days, two members of the coalition are now fighting in Yemen. Where is this taking us? Once again, I think this needs to be explained and laid out very clearly to both countries that these shortsighted policies cannot continue as they are affecting the entire region.
Journalist: Do you feel the administration should use more of its leverage on Saudi Arabia, because it does have leverage?
Spokesperson: Again, those are the bilateral relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States, we don't interfere with that. Yet, what we see from the Saudi's side is irrational behavior towards certain portfolios and this needs to be explained to them that it is taking us nowhere.
Journalist: What sort of relationship, if any, do Qatari officials have with Jared Kushner?
Spokesperson: Maybe you should ask them. I'm not aware of the details of that.
Journalist: I just curious to know if you have tried to get close to him the way the Saudi's have, because he seems to be rather influential on this specific issue?
Spokesperson: Again, our relations with the United States is a relationship between two states, it is a relationship between institutions, and we have a strategic dialogue tomorrow.
Journalist: Have you considered going beyond the institutional relationship, because this administration is different from previous administrations?
Spokesperson: I don't know. This is your own assessment of the situation. The way we see it, is that decision in the United States are still being made through institutions and our relations are excellent on that front.
Thank you very much for your time.