France urges Saudi-led bloc to lift sanctions on Qatari citizens

France has called on a Saudi-led quartet of Arab countries to immediately lift sanctions on Qatari nationals as an unprecedented diplomatic rift between the so-called siege states and the Persian Gulf’s peninsular country increasingly deepens.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian made the remarks in a joint press conference with his Qatari counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani in the Qatari capital, Doha, on Saturday in an attempt to heal the month-long rift in the Persian Gulf region.

“France calls for the lifting, as soon as possible, of the measures that affect the populations in particular, bi-national families that have been separated or students,” the minister said.

The growing crisis unfolded on June 5, when Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt severed ties with Qatar, officially accusing Doha of supporting “terrorism” and destabilizing the Middle East, allegations that Qatar says are unjustified and stem from false claims and assumptions.

To further pressure Qatar, Saudi Arabia has totally closed its land border with its tiny neighbor, through which much of Qatar’s food supply crossed.

Later in June, the four Arab countries urged Qatar to abide by a 13-point list of demands if it wanted the crippling blockade lifted. The demands included shutting down the Doha-based Al Jazeera broadcaster, scaling back cooperation with Iran, closing the Turkish military base in Qatar, and paying an unspecified sum in reparations.

The defiant Doha government, however, strongly refused to comply, calling the wide-ranging demands “unrealistic, unreasonable and unacceptable.” In return, the four feuding countries vowed to impose further sanctions on Doha.

French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian (L) embraces his Qatari counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani as they walk out of a press conference in the Qatari capital, Doha, July 15, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Le Drian, who arrived in Qatar a few hours before the press conference, intends to begin a Persian Gulf tour aimed at defusing the unprecedented crisis through holding talks with leaders of the involved countries, particularly Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The top French diplomat also said his respective country “should be a facilitator in the mediation” led by Kuwait, a key mediator in the crisis.

Le Drian, who has already met with Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, also said Paris “is very concerned by the sudden deterioration in relations between Qatar and many of its neighbors.” He added that France was talking to all the states involved in the row in a bid to “help in the search for a solution” while calling for “dialogue and calm” between the Arab countries concerned.

The Qatari foreign minister, for his part, welcomed France’s support for mediation in the row aimed at finding a solution “based on constructive dialogue… and respect of state sovereignty and international law.”

Sheikh Mohammed, in an apparent reference to punitive measures leveled against Doha by the bloc, said curbing terrorism could not be carried out through “practicing political and intellectual terrorism against a state.”

Le Drian’s mediating tour started just a few days after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson concluded an unsuccessful similar effort. The French foreign minister is to travel to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE.

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The coordinated move against Doha is spearheaded by Riyadh, which often manages to have its vassal states fall into line. Saudi Arabia itself is known as the main sponsor of Wahhabi terrorists it has accused Qatar of supporting. Some analysts believe the Saudi anger is rather because Qatar acts more independently of Riyadh, including in its relations with Iran.

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