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Qatar - Foreign Relations

The strategic risks to Qatar are as much to the ruling Al Thani family as they are to the State of Qatar. In fact, the distinction between the State and the Al Thanis is thin, varying, and uncertain. Accordingly, the foreign policy of Qatar can be considered little more than Al Thani family policy, determined by a few Al Thanis at the very top, led by the Amir, Shaykh Hamad bin Khalifa, and by Shaykh Hamad bin Jassim, who was Prime Minister and Foreign Minister. To put it another way, the foreign policy of this micro-state is both personality-driven and the product of an unceasing evaluation by the Al Thanis of the domestic and international risks to their family's 140-year grip on power.

On 25 June 2013, in a televised address to the nation, Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani announced that he was stepping down and transferring power to his son, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. A cabinet reshuffle folowed, with the long-serving Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani replaced as both prime minister and foreign minister, and all the other ministers replaced, save the oil minister. Known as "HBJ" the Sheikh has been a major driving force behind the country's rise to global prominence. Hamad bin Jassim was very keen to pursue a very adventurous foreign policy and his successor was unlikely to be as enthused by such a strategy as that. They would continue to try and maintain Qatar's role as an international mediator and as a player in international affairs, but perhaps not to the same extent as seen over the previous five years.

Qatar’s former foreign minister and prime minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani bin Jassim, was Qatar's foreign policy architect of over the past two decades that resulted in the diplomatic standoff with its Gulf Arab neighbors.In 2003 bin Jassim became the first Deputy Prime Minister before becoming Prime Minister in 2007 while retaining his Foreign Ministry position. He joined the government as Director of Agriculture and Municipal Affairs Minister’s office between 1982 and 1989, before being appointed minister by the ousted Emir Abdullah bin Khalifah al-Thani. In 1990 he was appointed the Deputy Minister of Water and Electricity along with his position of Minister of Agriculture and Municipal Affairs. In 1992 Bin Jassim became Qatar’s Foreign Minister and leading the development of Qatar's current foreign policy.

Bin Jassim's policies were the watermark of the emir Hamad bin Thani and his son Emir Tamim bin Hamad that took effect since the palace coup in 1995. Hamad Bin Jassim played a pivotal role to bring Hamad bin Abdullah to the throne in that coup. The policies initiated by bin Jassim have led to the coalescence of Qatar with members of the Muslim brotherhood terrorist group in a number of Arab countries and offering its leading members quarter in Doha. During bin Jassim's tenure engagement and cooperation with the Hezbollah terrorist group and Hamas initiated all the while relations greatly improved with Israel and Iran.

Qatar pursued a classic vulnerable small-state policy aimed either at pleasing as many players as possible or - where competing demands make this impossible - at containing and counter-balancing irritation caused by these policies. Qatar would persist in supporting problematic players such as Hamas, Hezbollah and Syria, even as it attempted to strengthen its relationship with the United States and its GCC neighbors. The trend in favor of using Al Jazeera as an informal tool of foreign policy continued undiminished.

In company with other gulf amirates, Qatar had long-standing ties with Britain but remained under nominal Ottoman hegemony until 1916, when the British took over the foreign affairs and defense of Qatar. During the next five decades, Britain also exercised considerable influence in the internal affairs of the amirate. When the announcement came that it would withdraw its military forces from the gulf by 1971, Qatari leaders were forced to consider how to survive without British protection.

Qatar achieved full independence in an atmosphere of cooperation with the U.K. and friendship with neighboring states. Most Arab states, the U.K., and the U.S. were among the first countries to recognize Qatar, and the state promptly gained admittance to the United Nations and the Arab League. Qatar established diplomatic relations with the U.S.S.R. and China in 1988. It was an early member of OPEC and a founding member of the GCC.

In addition to seeking collective security through the GCC, Qatar turned to close ties with Saudi Arabia, entering into a bilateral defense agreement in 1982. Given the small size of Qatar and a desire to stay in power, the Al Thani family did its best to stay on good terms with larger regional players, such as Saudi Arabia. In September 1992, tensions arose with Saudi Arabia when Saudi forces allegedly attacked a Qatari border post, resulting in two deaths. Relations have since improved. In December 2008, Qatar and Saudi Arabia signed a land and maritime border agreement while pledging mutual cooperation on a number of industrial and commercial issues.

A Memorandum of Understanding was signed between QP, ExxonMobil and Kuwait Petroleum Corporation (KPC) in July 2000 to develop a project to transport natural gas from Qatar to Kuwait. The execution of this project awaits the approval of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to allow part of the pipeline to go through Saudi territorial waters. Qatar wanted the U.S. to convince the Saudis to agree to an easement for the pipeline. By 2006 the Saudis did not appear willing to budge, leaving Kuwait in a position to look to Iran to provide additional gas supplies.

For years, both Qatar and Bahrain claimed ownership of the Hawar Islands. The case was eventually referred to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. The ICJ issued a ruling in June 2001, which both sides accepted. In the agreement Bahrain kept the main Hawar Island but dropped claims to parts of mainland Qatar, while Qatar retained significant maritime areas and their resources.

H.H. Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Emir of the State of Qatar was considered a highly competent politician and a great contributor to the enrichment of international and regional political practice. The manifestations of that contribution were reflected in the boosting of economic and political cooperation between Qatar and the Gulf Arab States in particular, and between Qatar and the rest of the world in general. Such contributions emanate from a strategic vision, which was marked by courage, originality, objectivity and comprehensiveness.

The personalities Doha received and the official visits paid by H.H. the Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani to the three old continents in addition to North America, all were positively reflected in Qatar's high standing amongst the states of the world which qualified it to play a positive and influential role marked by transparency, realism, clarity of vision and the adoption of moderate political approach.

Qatar was very keen to participate actively in the efforts to deal with all the concerns and challenges that the Gulf region encounters. It placed increasing emphasis on supporting the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and spared no effort to bring about solidarity and strengthen ties of mutual trust and communication between Arab countries, propagates the wisdom of resorting to peaceful means in resolving all disputes among countries, approves the United Nations efforts to uphold peace and security and works to maintain good relations with all peace-loving peoples and countries.

Qatar worked very hard to establish close ties of cooperation with all peace loving countries and peoples, extends generous financial aid to many developing countries in Asia and Africa and contributes to various regional and international aid funds to create the widest possible avenues of international cooperation.

As an expression of appreciation from the international community of the policies adopted by Qatar in the regional and the international spheres, Qatar was elected in March 1995 deputy chairman for the International Social Development Summit Conference, in the context of the UN regional groups representation.

Up until January 2009, Israel maintained a quasi-diplomatic presence in Doha. Qatar's "freezing" of Israel's Trade Office presence occurred in the wake of the failure by Qatar to achieve a quorum of Arab leaders for an Arab League Summit aimed at addressing the crisis in Gaza. The subsequent Doha Summit on Gaza, attended by a large Arab and Palestinian contingent from the rejectionist camp, voted to break off ties with Israel as a protest over Gaza. Qatar acted immediately; Mauritania later.

Historically there had been warm bilateral relations between Qatar and Syria. Qatar's regional politics were to maintain ties across the political spectrum and to keep Syria in the mainstream of Arab politics. Qatar's aim in so doing was to secure a role for itself in Middle East politics as a channel to these "bad actors." Qatar invested in Syria specifically because they want Syria to be "a part of us" (i.e. the Arab world), not a part of Iran. Qatari leaders believed that, although those around him were difficult to deal with, Bashar himself was a good person, and his thinking was changing.

Qatar led the Arab League in its U.N. efforts to put pressure on Syria. The draft resolution submitted by the Arab Group in August 2012 called for a peaceful solution to the crisis based on a Syrian-led political transition that met the aspirations of the Syrian people and ensured accountability of those who killed them and violated their rights, freedoms and dignity. It should lead to the establishment of a pluralistic, democratic, civil State with equal rights and freedoms, in a way that preserved Syria’s national and territorial unity, sovereignty and stability.

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani addressed the 67th session of the General Assembly on 28 September 2012. The Emir also discussed Syria and condemned the Syrian regime and criticized the UN Security Council for its failure to bring the conflict to an end. He called on all nations to assist the Syrian people in their struggle for independence.

Qatar along with some others wanted to remove Al-Assad and install the Syrian chapter of the Moslem Brotherhood. Qatar expressed deep concern with events taking place in Syria, lamented the loss of life of civilians and emphasized the need to legally protect the lives of civilians, in particular women and children. Qatar urged Syria to halt the bloodshed and the use of force against civilians and implement reforms that responded to the legitimate demands of the population. Saudi Arabia and Qatar were sponsoring armed groups in Syria.

After years of growing influence, by mid-2013 Qatar's apparent ambitions as a regional powerhouse had faltered in Tunisia and Syria and with its latest stumble in Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood was on the run, but fury against them, and their supporters abroad, had yet to abate. Coverage by Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based satellite powerhouse, fanned the spirit of revolution from Tunisia to Syria. It reveled in the election of Egypt's first Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi. Now, Tunisia and Libya were riven by strife. Syria descended into a brutal civil war. And in Egypt, what was known as the "The Islamic Project" - a Brotherhood favorite - had come to a crashing halt. The station and the country are so closely entwined in many minds that some call Qatar a satellite network with a country attached.

al-Jazeera America shuttered its cable TV and digital operations 30 April 2016. The decision by the AJAM board was “driven by the fact that our business model is simply not sustainable in light of the economic challenges in the U.S. media marketplace,” said AJAM CEO Al Anstey. The announcement of AJAM’s closure coincides with a decision by its global parent company to commit to a significant expansion of its worldwide digital operations into the U.S. market.

The impact of the Gulf crisis reverberated throughout the Horn of Africa. On 13 June 2017, the withdrawal of the observer forces deployed by Qatar on the Djibouti side of the Djibouti-Eritrea border led to an escalation of tensions between Djibouti and Eritrea. Evidence available to the Monitoring Group indicates ongoing activities on the Eritrean side of the border at Ras Doumeira.

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Page last modified: 12-09-2018 18:57:00 ZULU