DOHA/ABU DHABI: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain will meet Wednesday in Cairo to decide whether to continue sanctions imposed on Qatar on accusations it was aiding terrorism and courting regional rival Iran, in the worst diplomatic crisis to hit the region in years.
The Arab states, which accuse Qatar of supporting extremism, gave Doha an extra 48 hours to meet their demands after an initial 10-day deadline expired Sunday.
Qatar said Tuesday that their demands were impossible to meet, as a deadline was fast approaching for the emirate to respond.
Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammad bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told a news conference in Doha that the list of demands from countries isolating Qatar “is unrealistic and is not actionable.”
“It’s not about terrorism, it’s talking about shutting down the freedom of speech,” he said at a joint news conference after talks with German counterpart Sigmar Gabriel.
Sheikh Mohammad Monday handed an official response to Kuwait, which is mediating in the dispute, but its contents have not been disclosed.
He refused to give any further details Tuesday, but said Doha was looking for a solution to the month-long crisis based on dialogue.
“The state of Qatar has adopted a very constructive attitude since the beginning of the crisis. We are trying to act mature and discuss the matter,” he added.
Qatar, which denies any support for extremists, has said it will not bow to pressure and that the demands seem designed to be rejected.
The country is the world’s leading producer of Liquefied Natural Gas and Tuesday the head of state-owned Qatar Petroleum said it was planning a significant production increase over the next several years.
Saad Sherida al-Kaabi told a news conference that the emirate intends to produce 100 million tons of natural gas a year by 2024, up 30 percent from current levels.
“This new project will strengthen Qatar’s leading position,” Kaabi said. “We will remain the leader of LNG for a very long time.”
Some officials have suggested if Qatar does not cooperate Riyadh and its allies could tell foreign companies to choose between doing business with them or with Doha.
Kaabi said Qatar wanted the production increase to be carried out through a joint venture with international companies but that Doha could go it alone if necessary.
“We have absolutely no fear of having the embargo in place,” he said. “If there are no companies willing to work with us we will go to 100 million [tons], 100 percent.”
Riyadh and its allies have also accused Doha of being too close to their regional arch-rival Iran, which shares an enormous gas field with Qatar in the Gulf.
The crisis has raised concerns of growing instability in the region, home to some of the world’s largest energy exporters and key Western allies who host U.S. military bases.
Qatar has pursued a more independent foreign policy than many of its neighbors, who tend to follow the lead of regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia.UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan said Tuesday it was “premature” to discuss what further action might be taken against Qatar.
Any measures that are taken will be “within the framework of international law,” Sheikh Abdullah said at a press conference in Abu Dhabi with Gabriel, who was on a regional tour.
“Any independent state has the right to take measures against any party,” Sheikh Abdullah said, urging Doha to listen to “the voice of reason and wisdom.”