The Turkish Parliament on Wednesday approved legislation allowing its troops to be deployed to a military base in Qatar amid a diplomatic crisis in the Gulf as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain severed relations with Doha and closed their airspace to Qatari commercial flights on Monday, accusing it of financing terrorist groups.
The bill, which was first drafted in May, passed in Parliament with 240 votes in favor, largely with support from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
According to the bill, the cooperation between Qatar and Turkey will primarily involve modernization of Qatar’s military as well as expanding cooperation in training and war exercises. The bill did not specify how many troops would go nor when, Reuters reported on Wednesday.
Turkey set up a military base in Qatar, its first such installation in the Middle East, as part of an agreement signed in 2014. In 2016, Ahmet Davutoğlu, then Turkish prime minister, visited the base where 150 personnel are already stationed.
In an interview with Reuters in late 2015, Ahmet Demirok, Turkey’s Ambassador to Qatar at the time, said 3,000 ground troops would eventually be deployed to a base that was primarily to serve as a venue for joint training exercises.
Earlier on Wednesday, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) warned Turkey’s AKP government to avoid involvement in the crisis.
At a press conference in Ankara on Wednesday in advance of a Central Executive Board (MYK) meeting, CHP Deputy Chairman Bülent Tezcan said: “We strongly recommend [the AKP government] not make statements [on the Qatar crisis]. We have to maintain our neutrality at this time. Turkey must be part of the solution, not the crisis. We recommend the [AKP] government give up its relations with İhvan (Muslim Brotherhood). Otherwise, it will end up with serious problems and disasters.”
Underlining that Turkey had made serious diplomatic mistakes when the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011 and was now paying the price, Tezcan said Turkey must maintain a neutral stance in such a diplomatic crisis in its neighboring region.
CHP Deputy Chairman Öztürk Yılmaz also said: “With these agreements, Turkey is making a choice, and by standing by Qatar it is taking on the other countries. This is a wrong policy,” adding, “How will you be a mediator if you are taking sides?”
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Wedensday that Gulf states could resolve a row with Qatar amongst themselves without outside help. “We have not asked for mediation, we believe this issue can be dealt with among the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council,” he told a news conference with his German counterpart in Berlin broadcast on Saudi state television.
His remarks came at a time when several countries, including Turkey and Iran, increased their efforts to introduce a diplomatic solution to the crisis. “We see Qatar as a brother state, as a partner,” al-Jubeir said, “But you have to be able to tell your friend or your brother when they are doing the right thing and when they are doing the wrong thing.”
Jubeir said that “for many years Qatar has taken steps to support certain organizations,” and added that “This has been condemned in the past, but unfortunately we have not received appropriate cooperation on this and that’s why these measures have now been taken.”
Qatar has forged regional alliances independently of its fellow GCC states, drawing accusations from Saudi Arabia and its allies of serving Iranian interests.
A top Emirati diplomat, meanwhile, said “there’s nothing to negotiate” with Qatar. Speaking in a rare interview, Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash told The Associated Press that Qatar has “chosen to ride the tiger of extremism and terrorism” and now needed to pay the price. Gargash said Qatar “absolutely” should expel members of Hamas, stop its support of terror groups “with al-Qaeda DNA” around the world and rein in the many media outlets it funds, chief among them the Doha-based satellite news network Al-Jazeera.
While applauding a Kuwaiti effort to mediate the crisis, Gargash said Emirati and Saudi officials planned to concede nothing to Qatar, an international air travel hub now cut off from some of the skies around it and blocked from receiving the trucks full of food it relies on to feed its citizens. Their “fingerprints are all over the place” in terror funding, Gargash said. “Enough is enough.”
While Qatar’s flag carrier Qatar Airways now flies increasingly over Iran and Turkey, the airline has been blocked from landing elsewhere in the Middle East. Al-Jazeera offices also have been shut down by authorities in Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain accuse the Doha administration of financing militant groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Qatar strongly denies the accusations. It is the worst split between powerful Arab states in decades.
Meanwhile, “The Muslim Brotherhood denounces, with deep indignation, the accusations leveled against the group by Saudi officials,” said the Brotherhood in a statement on Wednesday. “Since its establishment, the Muslim Brotherhood has maintained positive relations with the people and rulers of the Gulf countries, providing them with cultural, scientific, political, economic and social services,” the statement read.
Since the ouster of Mohamed Morsi — Egypt’s first freely elected president and a Brotherhood leader — in a 2013 military coup, the group has been banned in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Brotherhood stresses its commitment to “peaceful” means of protest with a view to reversing Egypt’s 2013 coup, which was openly supported at the time by Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.
Earlier on Wednesday, Reuters reported that Qatar is in talks with Iran and Turkey to secure food and water supplies amid concerns of possible shortages two days after its biggest suppliers, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, cut trade and diplomatic ties with the import-dependent country.
Ankara’s move appears to support the Gulf Arab country when it faces diplomatic and trade isolation from some of the biggest Middle Eastern powers.
“I do not approve of Qatar being seen as terror suspect. If this were the case, I would be the first president to take a stand against [Qatar],” Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in Ankara on Tuesday, adding: “Here a different game is being played. We have not yet been able to find out who is behind this game.”
President Erdoğan has criticized the Arab states’ move, saying isolating Qatar and imposing sanctions will not resolve any problems and adding that Ankara will do everything in its power to help end the crisis. Turkey has maintained good relations with Qatar as well as several of its Gulf Arab neighbors. Turkey and Qatar have both provided support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and backed rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrived in Ankara on Wednesday at a time when a dispute between Gulf powers and Qatar is escalating. Zarif is expected to discuss bilateral and regional matters with Turkish President Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. Efforts to defuse the Qatar crisis — sparked on Monday when the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and others severed diplomatic ties with it over alleged support for Islamist groups and Iran — have shown no immediate signs of success.
Qatar is in talks with Iran and Turkey to secure food and water supplies amid concerns of possible shortages two days after its biggest suppliers, Reuters reported on Wednesday. “We are in talks with Turkey and Iran and other countries,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject, adding that the supplies would be brought in through Qatar Airways cargo flights.
The official said there were enough grain supplies in the market in Qatar to last four weeks and that the government also had large strategic food reserves in Doha.
On Wednesday, Mehmet Büyükekşi, chairman of the Turkish Exporters Assembly (TİM) told Reuters that Turkish exporters are ready to meet demand for food and water from Qatar. Büyükekşi said that exporters stood ready to fill the gap after the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia cut trade ties with Qatar.
The moves isolating Qatar are disrupting trade in commodities from crude oil to metals and food, and deepening fears of a possible jolt to the global gas market, where the tiny Gulf state is a major player. Food imports are affected as Saudi Arabia closed its land border with Qatar, stranding thousands of trucks carrying supplies. Qatar, a desert country heavily dependent on food imports to feed its mostly foreign population of 2,6 million, has assured residents it has taken measures to assure that normal life continues.
President Erdoğan on Tuesday said Ankara would continue to develop relations with Qatar. “We will try hard to get this crisis in the Gulf resolved as soon as possible. We will continue to develop our relations with Qatar,” Erdoğan said at a fast-breaking iftar dinner with foreign ambassadors in Ankara. Describing what has been going on as a “game,” Erdoğan rejected an accusation that Qatar supports terrorism.
Turkey is a key ally of Qatar and is setting up a military base in the country which also hosts the largest US air base in the Middle East. (SCF with turkishminute.com) June 8, 2017