Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah arrives to attend the 130th meeting of the foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Riyadh on March 4. Leaders attempted to persuade Qatar to abide by a November security agreement. (AFP/Getty Images)
BEIRUT — A diplomatic crisis between Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar could pose problems for US foreign policy in the Arabian Gulf, according to analysts.
On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors from Qatar for the first time since the formation of the 33-year-old Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in what was described as Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood and the gulf state’s involvement in regional conflicts.
The trio said in a joint communique that Qatar has failed to implement a GCC security agreement adopted in November to refrain from involvement in other nations’ politics and supporting organizations that threaten the gulf’s stability.
The communique added that the move was made to protect GCC security.
“The diplomatic strife between Qatar and the GCC is troubling for the US in regards to its plan to sell weapons to the GCC as a unified block,” said Matthew Hedges, military analyst at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis.
The GCC, with Qatar involved, will not be able to effectively cooperate on defensive programs due to the low level of trust, he added.
A US State Department spokesman said the agency is monitoring the situation.
“We hope the countries involved — with which we enjoy strong relations — can resolve their differences as soon as possible, for the benefit of regional security and cohesion,” the spokesman said.
In December, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced in Manama that the US will sell weapons to the GCC as a block. Following that announcement, the council announced the formation of a joint military command that could have as many as 100,000 soldiers.
Hagel added in Manama that the US will be pushing for cooperation to establish a unified missile defense shield in the region. The UAE has purchased terminal high altitude area defense systems while Kuwait has been upgrading its Patriot systems. Oman has expressed interest and Qatar last year placed a request for congressional approval.
“If this spat develops, the US may be faced with a position [of dealing] with Doha independently of the remaining GCC nations, this would be a success for the US defense industry but a disaster for US foreign policy,” he said.
On Tuesday, GCC foreign ministers met in Riyadh to discuss a signed security agreement and try to persuade Qatar to implement it, accordion to the statement from the three countries.
The statement said GCC members had signed an agreement on Nov. 23 not to back “anyone threatening the security and stability of the GCC whether as groups or individuals — via direct security work or through political influence, and not to support hostile media,” Hedges said.
“Where this diplomatic move may well be a protest aimed at pushing Qatar to get in line with the rest of the GCC in regards to these issues, if Qatar does not turn away from its current path, it will continue to isolate itself within the region,” he said.
According to high level GCC sources quoted in Kuwaiti daily Al Qabas, three key points were agreed during the Nov. 23 meeting: silence Egyptian Islamic scholar Sheikh Yousif al-Qaradawi from his criticism on media toward gulf states; stop Doha-based al-Jazeera network from airing “negative media” toward the gulf states; and end support of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The sources added that days after the agreement, Qaradawi launched a direct attack on UAE foreign policy, and al-Jazeera network launched an aggressive media campaign against the neighboring states, which indicated to them that Qatar had withdrawn from the agreement.
Furthermore, the sources said three nations might implement an economic embargo, including barring Qatar Airways from flying over Saudi, Emirati and Bahraini airspace.
“The recent outbursts of Sheikh Qaradawi are one example of the continuing resistance seen by the GCC towards Qatar’s commitment to this agreement and were ultimately not prepared to trust Qatar because of the lack of movement to comply with the Riyadh Agreement,” Hedges said.
On Thursday, the Qatari Cabinet of Ministers announced it will not reciprocate the move by the three countries describing its “regret and surprise” at the recall of ambassadors and said it remains committed to the values of the GCC.
Kuwait and Oman were the only countries in the council not to join in the diplomatic protest. Kuwait’s parliament speaker, Marzouq al-Ghanim, told local media he hoped that Kuwait’s emir would play a role in healing the divisions “as soon as possible.” ■
Zachary Fryer-Biggs in Washington contributed to this report.