US envoy to Qatar to quit as Persian Gulf row intensifies
US Ambassador to Qatar Dana Shell Smith says she is stepping down amid a deepening rift among Washington’s Persian Gulf Arab allies.
“This month, I end my 3 years as US Ambassador to #Qatar. It has been the greatest honor of my life and I’ll miss this great country,” Smith tweeted on Tuesday.
The US ambassador did not explain why she was resigning, who would replace her and if she was staying within the diplomatic service. US ambassadorships typically last three years.
A source close to Smith told CNN that she will also conclude her 25-year career in the foreign service once her post in Doha ends.
Smith was appointed as the US envoy to Qatar in 2014 by then president, Barack Obama.
She made headlines in May by expressing her dissatisfaction with political events back home under the administration of President Donald Trump.
The ambassador’s departure comes days after Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates cut their diplomatic and transport ties with Qatar, accusing Doha of destabilizing the region with its support for terrorism, an allegation rejected by the Qatari government.
Doha believes it is targeted by an orchestrated smear campaign over its independent foreign policy.
Trump recently sided with the Saudi-led bloc and accused Qatar of funding terrorism at a “very high level,” noting that “the time had come to call on Qatar to end its funding, they have to end that funding and its extremist ideology.”
Riyadh rejects Qatar ‘blockade’
As concerns grow about a humanitarian crisis in Qatar due to its Riyadh-led isolation, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, who is on a visit to Washington, claimed that the measures against the monarchy were reasonable.
“There is no blockade of Qatar. Qatar is free to go,” Jubeir said alongside US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday.
“The ports …, airports … [and] seaports of Qatar are open. There is no blockade on them. Qatar can move goods in and out whenever they want. They just cannot use our territorial waters,” he said. “The limitation on the use of Saudi airspace is only limited to Qatari airways or Qatari-owned aircraft, not anybody else.”
On Tuesday, Amnesty International criticized the punitive measures taken by Saudi Arabia and its allies against Qatar, saying the restrictions violate the human rights of the Qatari people.
Bahrain targets pro-Qatar lawyer
Separately on Tuesday, a prominent Bahraini human rights lawyer was taken into custody after launching a lawsuit against the government for taking “arbitrary” measures against Qatar.
Issa Faraj Arhama al-Burshaid had filed a case with the Supreme Administrative Court in Manama against the Bahraini cabinet, Interior and Foreign Ministries concerning the Qatar dispute.
“This siege has broken up family ties and hurt all Bahraini families. The decision to cut diplomatic relations violates Bahrain’s constitution and laws,” he said.
Last week, Bahrain declared it a crime – punishable by imprisonment of up to five years and a fine – to show “sympathy or favoritism” to Qatar or to oppose the decision to break off relations with it.
This is while efforts are underway on the diplomatic stage to settle the worst crisis to hit the Persian Gulf region in years.
Doha has welcomed mediation, but insists no one can dictate its foreign policy.
On Wednesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu is set to meet his Qatari counterpart, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, and Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in Doha.
If possible, the top Turkish diplomat will travel to Saudi Arabia in a diplomatic push to help end the regional dispute, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement late on Tuesday.
Turkey, which has sided with Qatar in the diplomatic spat, has slammed the pressure by the Saudi-led bloc of countries against Doha, saying isolating a nation in all areas is inhumane and against Islamic values.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called on Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to take a leading role in resolving the diplomatic rift in the region.
“Qatar along with Turkey is a country that took the most determined stand against the terrorist organization, Daesh,” he said.
Putin makes phone calls over Qatar row
In another development on Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin talked with the Saudi king over the phone about the Qatar crisis.
The two officials “touched on the aggravated situation around Qatar, which unfortunately does not help consolidate joint efforts in resolving the conflict in Syria and fighting the terrorist threat,” the Kremlin said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s state news agency reported that Putin and King Salman had discussed bilateral relations and counterterrorism efforts.
The Russian leader further held another phone conversation with the Abdu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
They discussed the Qatar issue and “expressed a mutual interest in searching for ways to settle the crisis,” the Kremlin said, warning that the current tensions around Qatar “exacerbate the difficult situation in the entire Middle East region.”
Egypt eases flight restrictions
On Tuesday, Egypt’s Civil Aviation Ministry said the country had eased flight restrictions and allowed airlines and aircraft, which are not registered in Egypt or Qatar, to use its airspace to fly to and from Qatar.
However, a ban on flights to and from Egypt by Qatari planes remains in force.
The crisis broke out last month after Qatar’s state news agency QNA released comments attributed to the emir describing Iran as an “Islamic power,” criticizing US President Donald Trump and praising the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas.
Qatar later said hackers had broken into the QNA website and published the fake news, but the denial apparently failed to convince the Riyadh regime and Persian Gulf Arab allies.