Dubai — Qatar may face further sanctions by Arab states that have severed ties with Doha over allegations of links to terrorism, as a deadline to accept their demands was expected to expire on Sunday night.
Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said the demands were made to be rejected, adding that the Arab ultimatum was aimed not at tackling terrorism but at curtailing his country’s sovereignty.
But he told reporters in Rome that Doha remained ready to sit down and discuss the grievances raised by its Arab neighbours. "This list of demands is made to be rejected. It’s not meant to be accepted or … to be negotiated," he said.
Qatar was "willing to engage in [dialogue], providing the proper conditions for further dialogue". He said that no one had the right to issue an ultimatum to a sovereign country.
The feud erupted last month when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic and travel ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism and being an ally of regional foe Iran, charges Doha denies.
A more serious sanction would be to ban investors from holding Qatari assets
The countries have threatened further sanctions against Qatar if it does not comply with their list of 13 demands presented to Doha by Kuwaiti mediators 10 days ago.
The demands include closing a Turkish military base in Qatar and shutting the Al Jazeera pan-Arab television network, which Doha also rejected.
Qatar’s Gulf critics accuse Al Jazeera of being a platform for extremists and an agent of interference in their affairs.
Al Jazeera has rejected the accusations and said it would maintain its editorial independence. The Gulf countries have insisted their demands are not negotiable.
The UAE ambassador to Russia has said Qatar could face fresh sanctions if it does not comply with the demands.
Gulf states could ask their trading partners to choose between working with them or with Doha, he said in a newspaper interview last week. They have not specified what further sanctions they could impose on Doha but commercial bankers in the region believe that Saudi, Emirati and Bahraini banks might receive official guidance to pull deposits and interbank loans from Qatar.
A more serious sanction would be to ban investors from holding Qatari assets, but authorities have given no sign of doing this.
UAE minister of state for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash played down the chances of an escalation, saying "the alternative is not escalation but parting ways", suggesting Qatar may be forced out of the six-member Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), formed in 1981 in the wake of Iran’s revolution.
Speaking in Washington last week, the Qatari foreign minister said the GCC was set up to guard against external threats.
"When the threat is coming from inside the GCC, there is a suspicion about the sustainability of the organisation," Sheikh Mohammed told reporters.
Qataris appeared defiant on Sunday, with newspapers decrying a "siege" and sharing on social media a cartoon of David and Goliath to illustrate Qatar’s struggle with its larger neighbours.