Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, left, and Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al Sabah, walk together on an airport tarmac as Al Thani arrives in Kuwait on July 3, 2017. Photograph was released by the state-run Kuwait News Agency. (KUNA via AP)
Qatari officials arrived in Kuwait on Monday, carrying a letter from the country’s emir, Qatari state media said, in what was expected to be a defiant response to demands issued by a quartet of Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia.
Qatari foreign minister Sheikh Mohammad bin Abdul Rahman al Thani was dispatched to deliver the letter from the emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, to the Kuwaiti ruler Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Jaber Sabah, according to Qatar’s official news agency.
Although the news agency did not say what the letter said, it was widely presumed to be a rejection of the conditions set by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt.
“These demands of the countries [imposing] the siege were presented to be rejected,” said Mohammad Al Thani at a press conference in Rome on Saturday. "Everyone is aware that these demands are meant to infringe the sovereignty of the state of Qatar, shut the freedom of speech and impose auditing and probation mechanism for Qatar.”
He added that his country was ready for dialogue.
The four other countries had extended a deadline by 48 hours for the tiny emirate to comply with their list of 13 demands. It is the latest chapter in a showdown that has seen a slew of Arab nations impose punitive economic and political sanctions on Qatar.
The Saudi-led bloc said in a joint statement that its response would be sent “following the study of the Qatari government’s response and assessment of its response to the whole demands.”
The bloc’s foreign ministers are set to meet in Cairo on Wednesday.
Kuwait has been the primary mediator in the almost monthlong crisis. Its leader has worked to placate the Saudi-led bloc, which has accused Doha of supporting adversaries such as the Muslim Brotherhood, meddling in countries’ internal affairs as well as maintaining relations with the regional nemesis Iran.
Meanwhile, Qatar’s neighbors have restricted its access to air and sea ports, while its only land border with Saudi Arabia has been shut in a de-facto land blockade on the country. (As much as 40% of Qatar’s food comes from Saudi Arabia.)
The economic isolation spurred fear of shortages among the country’s approximately 2.7 million people, of which a scant 11% are Qatari. Over the last month, Turkey and Iran have dispatched planeloads of foodstuffs to cover the shortfall.
The 13-point list of demands, which Saudi Arabia said was nonnegotiable, is thought to include edicts to shutter all Qatari-funded news outlets such as the Al Jazeera news channel, whose talk shows have long irked regional governments; hand over all information on dissidents Doha has supported; force the Qatari government to submit to financial oversight for 10 years and pay reparations to those affected by its policies; and reduce its links to Iran, with whom it shares a large gas field.
The fracas has kicked up a wide-scale media war, with Saudi, Emirati and Bahraini outlets launching daily broadsides on Qatar. (One Emirati daily, Roya, put a Blackbeard-like pirate on its front page to represent Doha with the words “Qatar Terrorism Mafia.”)
Saudi commentators have even touted their country’s superior dairy products, claiming food brought in from Iran and Turkey has caused food poisoning among Qataris.
The crisis has also raised the specter of a military invasion of the country, which is home to the Udeid Airbase, the forward headquarters of the U.S. Central Command, where more than 11,000 U.S. and U.S.-led coalition forces are stationed.
Turkey, whose support for the Muslim Brotherhood and Syrian rebels has led to cooperation with Doha, deployed troops and ratified plans to establish a base on Qatari soil so as to “boost military cooperation,” according to Turkish state news operator Anadolu.
The Saudi-led bloc has demanded that all Turkish soldiers leave the country.
On Sunday, Qatari defense minister Khaled Attiyah said in an interview on the Sky News channel that although he hoped matters would not escalate to the point at which “a military intervention [was] made,” Doha was ready to put up a vigorous defense.
“Qatar is not an easy country to be swallowed by anyone. We are ready,” said Attiyah.
“We stand ready to defend our country.”
Times staff writer Wilkinson reported from Washington and special correspondent Bulos from Beirut.
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