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Qatar foreign minister Dr. Khalid Al Attiyah

Ministerie van Buitenlands

Qatar foreign minister Dr. Khalid Al Attiyah

Qatar’s Foreign Minister Dr. Khaled Al Attiyah is slated to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov tomorrow to discuss issues in the Middle East, especially the conflict in Syria, according to Reuters.

The news agency cited Russia’s foreign ministry as the source of the information, but did not say where the meeting would take place.

However, Russia’s state-backed news agency Sputnik said the discussion will be in Moscow, and that Al Attiyah is expected to arrive today ahead of tomorrow’s talk.

Quoting Russia’s foreign ministry, Sputnik said:

“The talks will allow (the two) to ‘compare notes’ on key aspects of the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, with an emphasis on the search for a political solution to the existing crises with the support of international law, on the basis of broad national dialogue and without external dictate.”

Syria bombing

Aftermath of Russian airstrike in Syria

Syria Civil Defense

Aftermath of Russian airstrike in Syria

In October, a coalition of countries that support the ousting of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, including Qatar, called on Russia to “end its aggression” against Syrian rebels and civilians and instead focus its fight against ISIL.

This came after Russia began launching airstrikes over central and northern Syria. Russia has been an avid supporter of Al Assad regime, ever since the country’s civil war began in 2011.

In its statement this week, Russia’s foreign ministry said:

“We additionally continue to view as an absolute priority the creation of a broad international coalition in the fight against ISIL [Islamic State or Daesh in Arabic] and other terrorist groups in the Syrian Arab Republic and Iraq.”

Meanwhile, last week Qatar became a part of a Saudi-led military coalition that aims to fight terrorism, including groups such as ISIL and other organizations in Syria and Iraq.

Qatar is also a member of the ongoing US-led military campaign against ISIL, alongside other Gulf and Arab countries.

Ongoing talks

Russian officials have visited Qatar several times this year.

In August, Lavrov visited Qatar to meet with Al Attiyah to discuss fighting ISIL and other issues regional issues.

Russian flag for illustrative purposes only.

Anywalls.com

Russian flag for illustrative purposes only.

Topics also included the peaceful use of nuclear energy and exchanging information about preparing for the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cup that the two countries will host, state-backed Sputnik reports.

Last month, Al Attiyah met with Ilyas Umakhanov, deputy chairman of the Russian Federal Council (Senate) to discuss ”bilateral relations and many issue of mutual interest,” QNA reports.

It’s not clear when a high-ranking Qatar official last went to Russia. Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs didn’t respond to requests to comment about the upcoming trip.

Bilateral relations

In August, a couple of months before Russia started bombing areas in Syria, Al Attiyah described Qatari-Russian ties as ”historic.”

He added that Russia has supported many Arab issues, including the Palestinian cause, according to a statement issued on the official website of Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs about Lavrov’s previous visit to Doha.

When it comes to economic cooperation, trade between the two countries amounted to more than $501 million in 2014, Vice Chairman of Qatar Chamber Mohammed Bin Ahmed Al Kuwari previously said, according to Qatar News Agency (QNA).

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Dmitry Azovtsev/Wikicommons

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

However, relations between the two countries have suffered setbacks in the past.

For example, in February 2004, relations deteriorated between the two countries when Qatar handed down life sentences to two Russian agents charged with the killing of a former rebel Chechen leader who Russia accused of terrorism, the BBC reported at the time.

In response, Russia arrested two Qatari wrestlers who were released one month later after Qatar expelled a Russian diplomat who had been detained on suspicion of being involved in the murder.

By the end of 2004, the two convicted Russian agents were extradited to Russia, the BBC reported in a separate article.

In 2011, relations deteriorated again when the Russian ambassador in Qatar Vladimir Titorenko said he was assaulted by officials at the airport when he refused to allow them to confiscate his “diplomatic” bag, according to Russia Today (RT).

And in 2012, Russia’s UN ambassador denied reports that he threatened Qatar could be “wiped off the map,” during negotiations over a peace resolution in Syria after the Gulf country warned Russia not to veto the resolution, AP reported at the time.

Thoughts?

Qatar's foreign minister Dr. Khalid Al Attiyah

QNA

Qatar’s foreign minister Dr. Khalid Al Attiyah

A week after saying Qatar would consider playing a more aggressive role in Syria, Qatar’s foreign minister has clarified that the country would not send its troops into the war-torn country.

Khalid Al Attiyah also warned Israel that it is “offending 1.5 billion Muslims” with its policies in Jerusalem and hit out at World Cup critics.

In an interview airing tomorrow, the foreign minister told Al Jazeera English’s UpFront program that Syrians “can liberate their country themselves.”

When asked if Qatar would provide military assistance to rebels fighting President Bashar Al Assad’s government forces, he added:

“No, this is out of the question to have our soldiers’ (feet) on the ground … What they want is financial support, they want people to listen to them.”

Financing rebels

Al Attiyah’s remarks come as Qatar prepares to join the latest round of international talks on the Syrian conflict, scheduled for Friday in Vienna.

His comments followed an interview with CNN Arabic earlier this month in which he raised the prospect of a “military intervention,” saying, “Anything that protects the Syrian people and Syria from partition, we will not spare any effort to carry it out.”

Interview with Khalid Al Attiyah on UpFront

Al Jazeera

Interview with Khalid Al Attiyah on UpFront

An analyst who spoke to Doha News last week said it was unlikely that Qatar would send soldiers into Syria.

However, Michael Stephens – the director at the Royal United Services Institute in Qatar – suggested Al Attiyah’s remarks indicated the government may increase its support for rebels in response to Russia’s recent bombing campaign.

Qatar supports the ousting of Assad in Syria and has contributed military training, cash and diplomatic boosts such as UN resolutions and hosting the first opposition-operated Syrian embassy.

For the first time, Iran will be among the nations participating alongside Qatar in tomorrow’s Syria talks in Vienna.

Iran and the Gulf states have opposed rival groups in Syria, Yemen and Iraq, contributing to heightened tensions in the region.

For illustrative purposes only.

Rafael Medina / Flickr

For illustrative purposes only.

In his Al Jazeera interview, Al Attiyah echoed remarks made by Qatar’s Emir at the UN and framed the differences between the two sides as a political, rather than a religious, division:

“We don’t see the dispute with Iran in the region as a Sunni-Shia thing,” the foreign minister said. “What we are seeing and what we are fearing is an Arab-Persian conflict which we want to avoid.”

He added that Iran should “calm down the language…to help facilitate” dialogue.

Israel

In contrast to his apparent willingness to find common ground with Iran, Al Attiyah ruled out any engagement with Israel.

Qatar hosted an Israeli trade office in Doha for more than a decade, but closed it in 2009 following Israel’s invasion of Gaza.

Pro-Palestine rally in Qatar

Chantelle D'mello

Pro-Palestine rally in Qatar

In recent years, Qatar politicians have repeatedly condemned Israel and voiced support for Palestinians in speeches at international forums.

“I don’t think we are in a position to have any cooperation with Israel at this stage,” Al Attiyah said, warning that the country is “offending 1.5 billion Muslims” with its handling of recent violence in Jerusalem and the Occupied Territories.

In the wide-ranging interview, Al Attiyah also said Qatar has “our own democracy…which everybody is happy with” and discussed the 2022 World Cup.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Doha Stadium Plus Qatar/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

He said the much-criticized condition of low-income workers in Qatar is “improving” and said the country deserves to host the international football tournament.

“The (Arab) region needs such a tournament for the youth of the Arab region and I think we deserve to have one.”

He also took a shot at English Football Association head Greg Dyke, who has previously predicted the Gulf country would be stripped of the tournament.

“I want to see his face when we host the 2022 (World Cup),” Al Attiyah said.

Thoughts?

Qatar foreign minister Dr. Khalid Al Attiyah

Ministerie van Buitenlands

Qatar foreign minister Dr. Khalid Al Attiyah

With translation by Riham Sheble

After years of calling for the overthrow of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Qatar has escalated its rhetoric this week, with a senior official saying Doha would consider using military force to help the Syrian people.

Qatar Foreign Minister Dr. Khalid Al Attiyah made his remarks yesterday in an interview with CNN Arabic, during which he reiterated Qatar’ preference for a “political solution” to the Syrian civil war.

However, he went further by saying:

“Anything that protects the Syrian people and Syria from partition, we will not spare any effort to carry it out with our Saudi and Turkish brothers, no matter what this is,” Al Attiyah said, according to a text of his remarks published in Arabic by Qatar’s state news agency.

“If a military intervention will protect the Syrian people from the brutality of the regime, we will do it,” he added.

Aftermath of Russian airstrike in Syria

Syria Civil Defense

Aftermath of Russian airstrike in Syria

While an analyst said it’s unlikely Qatar would actually send its troops into Syria, the minister’s remarks suggest that that the government may increase its support for rebels inside of Syria in response to Russia’s recent bombing campaign.

Earlier this month, Qatar and its western allies accused Russia of targeting Assad’s opposition and called on the nation to “end its aggression” against Syrian rebels and civilians.

In response to Al Attiyah’s remarks, supporters of the Syrian government quickly ratcheted up their own rhetoric, warning of grave consequences if Qatar deepened its involvement in the conflict. On Twitter, pro-Syrian Lebanese politician Wiam Wahhab wrote:

(Translation: “If Qatar executes its threats by intervening militarily in Syria, then Doha will be shelled.”)

Tipping the balance

Michael Stephens, director at the Royal United Services Institute in Qatar, told Doha News that he believes it’s unlikely Qatar soldiers will be deployed to Syria, apart from potentially sending military trainers and individuals to transport weapons to rebels.

However, he said Al Attiyah is leaving the option open for more activity in Syria, such as supplying anti-tank and surface-to-air weapons in partnership with other countries opposed to al-Assad:

“(Qatar) will work with (Saudi Arabia) and Turkey to tip the balance back in favor of the rebels,” Stephens said, adding that Riyadh is leading these efforts.

“Qatar has always kept an open mind on intervention, but this is definitely an escalation in rhetoric. But talk and action are two different things. If Qatar wants to see results in Syria, it has to act (as Russian President Vladimir) Putin has raised the stakes.”

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Chantelle D'mello

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Qatar has long supported the rebels in Syria with military training, financial assistance and diplomatic support such as UN resolutions and hosting the first opposition-operated Syrian embassy.

These efforts have made it a target for smear campaigns and cyber attacks by individuals loyal to the Syrian government.

More recently, Qatar was reportedly involved in drafting plans with Saudi Arabia and Turkey to oust al-Assad using force.

February 2012 protest against Syrian president Bashar Al Assad.

Omar Chatriwala / Doha News

February 2012 protest against Syrian president Bashar Al Assad.

Al Attiyah previously said Qatar has also allowed some 25,000 Syrians to enter the country since the civil war began in 2011.

However, Qatar and the other Gulf states have come under criticism for not accepting any Syrians as refugees, who are typically given some form of residency status.

By contrast, many Syrians living in Qatar have renewable visitor visas, which prevents them from working.

Thoughts?