MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We’re going to start the program today considering the dilemma of the tiny Persian Gulf nation of Qatar. The country is facing a deadline to agree to a series of demands from Saudi Arabia and three other Arab countries. Saudi Arabia gave Qatar until Sunday evening to meet its demands, which include closing the Al-Jazeera network which is headquartered in Qatar and reducing diplomatic relations with Iran. NPR’s international affairs correspondent Jackie Northam has been following all of this, and she’s with us now in the studios. Jackie, welcome. Thanks for joining us.
JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Thank you very much.
MARTIN: So just – can you just bring us up to date for people who have not been following it? What started this whole confrontation?
NORTHAM: Well. There’s actually been a low-grade feud between Qatar and Saudi Arabia for a number of years now, but it erupted last month when Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates all banded together and cut diplomatic ties with Qatar and imposed a blockade of its air, land and sea lengths.
And they’re saying Qatar supports terrorism and it supports the Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood. And it accuses Qatar of being an ally with Iran. But, you know, they’re also angry about the Al-Jazeera network that’s owned by the Qatar government. And coverage of the countries in the group is often critical on that network.
NORTHAM: So this deadline is coming up quickly. Does it look as though Qatar will concede to these demands?
NORTHAM: At this point, it does not look as though Qatar will concede. You know, Saudi Arabia is a powerhouse in this region, and they see Qatar as an upstart. You know, it’s a small but very, very wealthy country, thanks very much to its natural gas exports. And Qatar is also the Middle East headquarters of the U.S. Central Command. And there is a huge U.S. air base there.
You know, Qatar’s foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, said in a tweet earlier today that the demands by Saudi Arabia were meant to be rejected. And, you know, he basically said the same thing when he was in Washington last week. Let’s have a listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MOHAMMED BIN ABDULRAHMAN BIN AL THANI: Qatar is willing to look at whatever area of concern they have, whatever claims they are having but should be based on many principles, which is nothing to infringe our sovereignty or our independence.
MARTIN: And what about Saudi Arabia or the other Gulf Nations involved in this blockade? What are they saying at this moment?
NORTHAM: Right. Well, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, was also in Washington last week. And he said the demands are non-negotiable.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ADEL AL-JUBEIR: It’s up to the Qataris to amend their behavior. And once they do, then we can – things will be worked out. But if they don’t, they will remain isolated.
MARTIN: You know, it has to be noted that all of the countries involved in this dispute are considered allies of the United States. Is the administration involved in trying to resolve this?
NORTHAM: Right. You’re right. I mean, they – all these countries are important to the U.S., particularly in the fight against ISIS and the war in Syria. But, you know, the response from the U.S. has been confused. You have President Trump, you know publicly siding with Saudi Arabia. And then you have the State Department saying – criticizing Saudi Arabia for the blockade of Qatar.
And Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement that Qatar would find it, quote, “very difficult” to comply with some of these requests. So, you know, it is in the interest of the U.S. to sort it out, and I imagine there is a lot of reaching out by the administration to all sides as this deadline draws closer.
MARTIN: Has the Saudi government indicated what will happen if the deadline passes and neither side or the Qataris won’t budge?
NORTHAM: Journalists tried to pin down Saudi’s foreign minister, al-Jubeir, on that very question, but he wouldn’t say exactly what will happen. All he said is, they’re going to continue to push Qatar to fall in line. And if they want to come back in the fold, Qatar knows what it has to do. And he was very vague about it.
MARTIN: That’s NPR’s Jackie Northam, who covers international affairs here with us in our Washington, D.C., studios. Jackie, thank you.
NORTHAM: Thank you, Michel.
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