NNA – The following is the full transcript of CNBC’s interview with Qatari Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani. This interview broadcast in Asia on Wednesday, October 18.
Interviewed by Nancy Hungerford, Anchor/Correspondent, CNBC.
Nancy Hungerford (NH): Your excellency thank you for taking the time to speak to CNBC and here we are in Singapore. You were here as part of a delegation promoting ties in Southeast Asia. Undoubtedly there are still questions over the rift with your gulf allies and I just want to bring up some comments from the Saudi foreign minister at the U.N. General Assembly just weeks ago. In fact he talked and said specifically that Doha’s practices are providing financial support to terrorism while disseminating violent hate speech is unacceptable. Does this sound to you like a message from a government that is ready to come to the table and try to find an agreement here?
Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani (Al Thani): Well first of all thank you Nancy for hosting me today. Just regarding these continuous statements and allegations from the Saudis and from the other blockading nations toward Qatar which has never been proven, this is something which is all of us we are against. This is something which is related to the collective security of our region, which is a priority for Qatar, as it’s priority for them. But just throwing those allegations without even basing them by evidence and supporting them by evidence, is just showing inconsistency in their behavior that they don’t want to solve this issue. They started the entire issue, the entire crisis with a cyber-attack. This cyber-attack is to create a foundation for the crisis. So if there was a real justification for this crisis they wouldn’t need to attack our state news agency, to put a fabricated statement attributed it to the Emir in order to launch this campaign. So we are still calling them if you have any allegations, if you have anything any concerns need to be addressed by Qatar we are willing to sit on the table. Show us your concerns if there is something which needs measures being taken, it should be taken by Qatar and by other countries because it’s a collective concern for everyone.
NH: Saudi Arabia has denied that a cyber-attack was behind this issue and really continues to be their word against yours and vice versa here so how does this end? How are you going to eventually get an agreement?
Al Thani: Well first of all their denial actually is not true because we were just in Riyadh two days before the cyber-attack. Why none of them has raised any concern? Before that even a few days we were also in Riyadh at the Ministerial Council for the Gulf for the GCC. So they never raised any concern about any issue. We were talking about regional issues. We were discussing the future of the GCC and none of them has raised any of those issues and those allegations. The cyber-attack was the spark for the entire crisis. There is no doubt that they have initiated this cyber-attack in order to create a basis for this crisis. Now, since this crisis is taking more than four months, everybody from our side at least we know we recognize that we want to have a solution for this – because we see that there is no winner out of this because we have a lot of other challenges in our region, and we don’t we don’t need a further crisis to the other open war zones. All our allies and friends they want a solution for this crisis, including the United States, even including the president of the United States was calling to bring the leaders together in order to put an end for all for this crisis. The Emir of Kuwait was leading the mediation, and he’s continuing his efforts, yesterday he was in Riyadh, but there is not any result yet. This is showing a consistent behavior from the blockading nation just to continue the crisis, disrespect and bully. This is all about — it’s nothing about that they want to stop financing terrorism or to stop the hatred speech while they are promoting and doing the same by promoting incitement against my country, promoting a regime change against my country. So there are contradictions between what they are saying as statements and what’s their real activities on the ground.
NH: You mentioned regime change. Do you think Saudi Arabia is actively looking at ways to bring about regime change as we speak?
Al Thani: Well we see that there are officials, government officials are talking about regime change if we see their government officials talking about protesting and inciting people to go and protest against their government. So it’s about regime change. We see a country which is bringing back the Dark Ages of tribes and putting them together in order to create a pressure on a connected tribes to them in Qatar: That means that they want to destabilize this country, so their behavior as I just mentioned is just showing that they are not willing for a solution. They are into escalation, they are into thinking about regime change and other things. But from Qatar’s side we are intent very content in dealing with them. We never committed against anyone. We were always calling for dialogue; we were always calling them if there is any concern that we are going to address. But from the other hand we don’t see the same thing.
NH: In addition to the threat of regime change there have also been reports that the UAE was looking at an invasion into Qatar perhaps with the use of mercenaries. Also reports that Saudi could’ve been looking an outright invasion as well. Do you think that U.S. President Donald Trump played a role in really influencing Saudi Arabia not to go forward with an invasion?
Al Thani: Well since the beginning of the crisis based on our assessment we have seen that there were some possibilities for military activity, which whether its invasion or intervention or maybe by different means. Our allies in the United States has been active from the beginning, trying calm down the entire situation as well as the Emir of Kuwait – so there where everybody worked collectively in order to deescalate the situation and really to resort to a dialogue rather than going for escalation. Regarding the way they are dealing with the entire matter is just showing irresponsibility to the region to regional security.
NH: When you talk about the U.S. role currently as it stands we know there have been some mixed messages if you will between the U.S. secretary of state Rex Tillerson who I know you’ve spoken with on the matter, and U.S. president Donald Trump. Do you consider the U.S. a reliable ally in mediating this dispute?
Al Thani: Definitely, they are a reliable ally we have very strong ties with the United States, we have we are hosting more than 11,000 U.S. soldiers, we have the largest U.S. base in the Middle East, we are the center of command for the Coalition for the global coalition against Daesh. There are a lot of things, and lots of joint interests between Qatar andf the United States which make it necessarily that this region to be stable, which makes it necessarily that both of us are reliable allies to each other.
NH: And do you think the U.S. president and the secretary of state are aligned on the matter?
Al Thani: Well from from our perspective what we got from the US president since the beginning of the crisis he was calling that the situation need to be dealt by dialogue and also during his course with the Emir, as well as the different government agencies. The Defense Department, the State Department they were always an advocate for the solution to our dialogue. So we we didn’t see a mixed message. If we are considering a tweet or two, is sending a mixed message, but this is something not relevant to us. What really concerned us what’s what’s the overall U.S. policy toward this crisis which has been consistent from the beginning of the crisis to put an end to it and to solve it by dialogue.
NH: You mentioned the fact that Qatar houses is thousands of U.S. troops in fact it’s an important part of the base in the fight against terrorism against ISIS. Do you think the battle against ISIS has suffered as a result of the conflict taking place?
Al Thani: Definitely yes because. What can I say, 90 percent of our supplies of food supply, medicine supply is coming through the land border and those supplies part of it is going to the base. Second, we have the airspace which was blocked, the airplane the airplane, the Qatari airplanes which are supporting the logistic airplane for that for the military. They are not allowed to fly over their skies so it’s only allowed to use one path which is toward the north, toward Iran. So this is an effect as well as our officers who were participating in the coalition activity and the Fifth Fleet in Bahrain they’ve been expelled because of this. So there are a lot of things which undermine the efforts of the global efforts in countering daesh by this crisis by the blockade and by the measures they have been taken against Qatar.
NH: The U.S. military has recently said it’s going to suspend some drills with Gulf allies. What impact is that having and ultimately if the U.S. military were to say we’re going to put a freeze in fact and some weapon sales and arms sales to our Gulf allies as well would that be enough to bring the parties to the table to talk?
Al Thani: Well we are hopeful that they don’t need to do all those measures to bring the parties to the table. We hope that wisdom will prevail. At the end by the blockading countries and they come to the table and have direct talks with us about whatever their concerns. But what we have seen from the last four months now, there’s a consistent systematic behavior of disrespect and bullying. So they do whatever they want despite the demands which are coming from different countries trying to put an end for this crisis. We hope that at the end they will come to the dialogue and we hope that they come at the right time. They don’t even just keep keep pushing it away in order that they think that they will make Qatar weaker, Qatar became much stronger than before the blockade.
NH: When you talk about the reasons that Saudi Arabia may not be coming to table, one of the big sticking points to them is your relationship with Iran. When Qatar decided to fully restored diplomatic ties with Iran. What are you trying to achieve here?
Al Thani: Well this accusation is entirely baseless. Now we have, we have differences in our policies in Iran but with Iran sorry, there are differences. But between us as the Gulf countries we have agreed on a common policy toward Iran and it is already there and the resolutions of the GCC, which is that we need to engage in a dialogue with Iran based on certain principles which wishes non-intervention of each other’s affairs, no undermining of security and exportation of any revolution and revolutionary ideology or that self-avoiding or denouncing the sectarianism. So all those principles been agreed on between the Gulf countries and this philosophy was which Qatar stick to and still sticking to. Our policy toward Iran remain the same and didn’t change because of the crisis. They were trying to create just a justification to legitimize their blockade. Our restoration to our diplomatic relations with Iran. That doesn’t mean that Qatar change its policy because we will go back to the reason, the original reason of our withdrawal of our ambassador, there was just a gesture of solidarity with the Saudis when they attacked their diplomatic mission, which is not exist anymore because we cannot show solidarity to a country which blockaded our people. So that’s the only thing our relation with Iran we have we are neighbors. We have borders together. We are sharing a gas field together. We have to overcome and bridge the gaps in our differences by dialogue. We cannot increase the tension in the region. We have to resort to dialogue.
NH: Has the US ever expressed concerns about your support for Iran your relationships with Iran? Because we know U.S. president Donald Trump has his concerns with Iran that he’s voiced in recent days.
Al Thani: Well there is absolutely no support to Iran and the Qatar and Iran relationship has been very consistent since long time. We have differences as I told you, we are opponents in what’s happening in Syria. We are opponents in what’s happening in Yemen, we are opponents in what’s happening in their policies in Iraq. And when we are adversaries on those different political battles, we are we have been frontrunner and in this we have been on the front line in Syria. We have been the ones who are still from the beginning and we are still the lead in the region which is vocal and advocate against Bashar al Assad regime. So there is nothing being changed about our policy. U.S. They have their own policy towards Iran which is represented by consent for them. Yes we understand. But at the end, U.S. is thousand miles away from Iran. We are neighboring border with Iran. Now after this blockade, if we have just one pathway from the north toward Iran and the three sides east west and south is blocaded just because of those blockading Nations decided to isolate my country and to put in a siege. How can I assure the food supply for my country, how can I am sure that medicine supply for my country. So there are things which are forcing me to have to increase my bilateral ties with them. And in fact the ties between the GCC and Iran as a group. Ninety six percent of this bilateral trade is between Emirates and Iran. It’s not between Qatar and Iran. And the 4 percent. It’s ranked number four so we are fifth trade partner among the Gulf countries and the fourth from the 4 percent which doesn’t represent more than 50 million dollars. By that. So what kind of a special relation between Qatar and Iran?
NH: Why in your opinion is Saudi Arabia making Iran a big part of the issue?
Al Thani: Well since the starting of the crisis they’ve been talking about Iran. They have been talking about everything they believe that might legitimize for them and gain sympathy to what they did to us with the West. And this is the main reason the main driver for them. They don’t want to appear for the Western country that they did this out of wanting to just hijack the country’s policies and keep it under its guardianship, which is totally unacceptable. They want just to show that we are doing this for the sake of the region and security why they are undermining regional security.
NH: Let’s talk about the region here in Southeast Asia. What are you hoping to achieve on this trip?
Al Thani: Well Qatar is part of Asia, of course, and 90 percent of our exports are coming to Asia so Asia is representing a very important market. In fact, ASEAN countries are 50 percent of our market. So we have a continuous dialogue with the Asian countries, which is hoping to improve and develop the relationship and try to un-tap that potential and this relationship. Which as we have seen is realized now in our investments, which has been dramatically increased in the last few years in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, China. So Qatar investments are widespread in this region, which we believe this is the Asia where we belong to and it represents a very high importance for us. Singapore as well has a special status with us where we have this high level of joint committee between the two countries. Since now for 12 years more than 46 enterprises we have realized out of this joint committee, which are two of the major environmental projects of Qatar was conducted as a result for this committee. So there is a lot of progress and a lot of work between Qatar and the Asia region, Southeast Asia especially.
NH: Do you sense that some of the countries you’re meeting with including in Malaysia where I know you’ve just come from– are you worried that they have divided loyalties because we know that Saudi Arabia has been in the region as well and made some investments in Malaysia. Do you find yourself trying to reassure these countries that in fact they don’t have to be split?
Al Thani: Well, Qatar is a matured state. We have dealt with the matter from the beginning and we have used the high moral ground and we will never try to pressure any country. While from the other hand Saudi and the blockading countries they were trying to exercise whatever kind of leverage they have on the countries especially in Africa and some countries of Southeast Asia, which we see this as a blackmailing for nations and trying to impose something on their sovereignty, which we don’t accept. Countries which decided to join their club without any support for the arguments, this is something up to them but it really means that those countries are not having their full control over their decision making process. While countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, and others they’ve never been subject for this and we highly respect those responses, which is what it should be and how it should be for sovereign nations. No country can impose any demands or anything on another sovereign nation. So they have their own assessment and they have to decide whether Qatar is a country which is a reliable partner that they can work with, or Qatar is a country which is a source of disturbance for them.
NH: I have to ask because you mentioned that pretty soon you’ll be heading to the US– going to Washington D.C. What is the agenda for that trip. Will you be meeting with the U.S. secretary of state or other members of the administration?
Al Thani: I’ll be following up on our last meeting with President Trump which took place in September between his highness, me and the president. And I’ll be meeting some of the U.S. officials as well as some of the congressmen and senators in order to help to update on the situation and to follow up on matter. The secretary of state I might meet him in the region just before my trip to the U.S. as he might have a visit to Qatar as well.
NH: U.S. President Donald Trump is very confident that he could help bring about a resolution very soon I think in the coming days, weeks even, is he right to be that confident?
Al Thani: Well he was very much into the situation and he was speaking very seriously about that. He doesn’t want to see this conflict prolonging but from the other hand as I told you we didn’t see a positive response from the blockading nations as we still see the status quo remain. We are hopeful that things will reach to a solution and we will come to dialogue. And also we are confident that the U.S. can play a strong role and President Trump can play a positive role in this and in bringing all the leaders together.
NH: Your Excellency thank you very much for your time today. Thank you very much. — CNBC