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Wed 7 Jun 2017 02:48 PM

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UAE downplays chance of early resolution to Qatar crisis

UAE's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs says he hopes 'cooler heads' will emerge in Doha

UAE downplays chance of early resolution to Qatar crisis
UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash. (Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images)

The worst crisis in decades among the Gulf’s Arab monarchies intensified on Wednesday, with a Saudi-led alliance imposing more punitive sanctions against Qatar and a senior UAE official playing down the chances of a quick diplomatic resolution.

The United Arab Emirates said it would no longer grant visas on arrival for foreigners living in Qatar, while Qatari nationals were barred from transiting through the country. Both decisions were relayed through state-run media.

UAE residents who express support or sympathy for Qatar on social media could face a jail term of up to 15 years, the public prosecutor said.

Three Gulf states - Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain - along with Egypt on Monday blocked their transport routes with Qatar, including the country’s only land border. They accuse Doha of destabilising the region through supporting proxies of Shiite Muslim Iran and the Sunni militants of al-Qaeda and ISIL, charges Qatar has repeatedly denied.

Dispelling hopes that a solution to the impasse could be found soon, Anwar Gargash, the UAE minister of state for foreign affairs, said the alliance is willing to take further measures against Qatar if it doesn’t pledge to overhaul its “subversive” foreign policy. He said Qatari leaders were still in “denial” about the steps they need to take to defuse tensions.

His comments came as Kuwaiti ruler Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah shuttles among Gulf capitals in an effort to find a solution to a crisis that pits some of the world’s richest nations against each other in a struggle over regional dominance. US President Donald Trump on Tuesday backed the Saudi-led measures, calling it just punishment for the country’s financial support for extremists and taking sides in a dispute among key US allies in the Persian Gulf.

The US has had a friendly and cooperative relationship with Qatar, which is home to the forward headquarters of the US military’s Central Command. CentCom, as it’s known, has a primary role in the battle against ISIL in Iraq and Syria.

“For us, this a critical issue and there is no turning back to the status quo,” Gargash said on Wednesday in Dubai. “There has to be first a very clear political indication, whether it’s to the mediator, whether it’s to the GCC countries, that Qatar is changing course. You start with that. You can’t start mediation when Qatar is in denial and I think right now we are in a phase where Qatar is in denial.”

Sheikh Sabah held talks on Tuesday with Saudi leaders and is due to visit the UAE on Wednesday, Al Arabiya television reported. Earlier this week, he urged Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani to avoid any escalation.

In dismissing the charges leveled at it, Qatar has said the Saudis are seeking to dominate the region. Western officials have expressed concerns that Qatar may back fundamentalist groups, but they’ve also raised similar issues about Saudi Arabia.

Qatar’s benchmark QE Index for stocks fell 1 percent at the close in Doha. The measure tumbled more than 7 percent on Monday, the most since 2009.

While Gargash said he hoped that “cooler heads” in Qatar would prevail to defuse the crisis, he said the allies had tools to inflict more economic pain on the fellow Gulf Cooperation Council member if necessary. He denied that the alliance was seeking regime change in Qatar.

The sanctions are meant to say to Qatar that it has chosen a route “that supports extremism, supports terrorism,” Gargash said. “You can live with it but you are not going to be part of what we want to do and so you can’t have both worlds.”

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