AGSIW Responds to Qatar Crisis
The past week has witnessed an unprecedented escalation of tensions among the Gulf Cooperation Council states, culminating with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain severing ties with Qatar. AGSIW senior resident scholars and staff offered insights into the ongoing tensions and identified the implications for Qatar and its GCC neighbors.
Speaking with Reuters, AGSIW President Ambassador Marcelle M. Wahba commented on the U.S. response to the crisis: “The U.S. will step up to the plate. How we will do it? I think it will be very quiet and very much in the background.” She continued, “I doubt very much we will sit on the sidelines and let this crisis get more serious.”
I think what we see now is a moment of considerable consequence for the region. I think this is kind of a redo of what we saw in 2014 with a greater sense of impatience and frustration layered upon what were the issues then and remain the issues and the grievances now that particularly the Saudis and Emiratis have brought to bear, and I think the fact that they have raised the ante considerably this time around, by closing off land border and sending citizens out and insisting that others remain in country, and also closing off air space, and refusing privileges for airlines to land and then take off in Qatar, I think there is a sense of isolation for me here. It really does speak for the fact that Saudis and Emiratis have seen very little progress on issues, issues of greatest import to them since the rift in 2014.”
Senior Resident Scholar Karen E. Young commented on Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s role for The Washington Post: “I do think it’s fair to say that it emboldened Saudi Arabia and the UAE to reshape the region and the immediate neighborhood in ways that they had wanted to do for a long time.” She continued, “I think it’s because they saw an opening in American policy — that Trump would support them in efforts that could be perceived as counterterrorism.”
Speaking with CNN, Senior Resident Scholar Hussein Ibish noted that the crisis “doesn’t really change the strategic situation for the United States in the short run.” He continued, “But in the long run, it could create openings for Iran.” He also posited that the situation “emphasizes the lack of unity,” and “potentially creates openings for the pro-Iranian camp, at least in terms of public opinion within the Arab world — Arab nationalists will side with Qatar, Islamists will side with Qatar, some liberals will side with Qatar, too.” Ibish commented again for CNN, following U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s tweets in support of Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s decision to cut ties with Qatar: “The administration’s two priorities are confronting terrorism and Iran, that’s exactly what this is about.” He continued, “The chance of the US siding with Qatar, giving them a face-saving way out, is totally gone.”
Ibish also commented on the issue for the Washington Times, noting that the crisis is “an escalation of tensions that were there in 2014, when Qatar was accused by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and others of supporting extremists,” and that “Qatar is now accused of nonconformance with the obligations of a GCC reconciliation agreement that it signed in 2014 to end that diplomatic standoff.” He added, “All of the statements coming from the countries taking action against Qatar now cite that nonconformance.”
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