Gulf crisis: Wests keen eye on strategic and economic benefits
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M. K. Bhadrakumar |

The failure of the mission to the Gulf by the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to resolve the rift between Qatar and the ‘boycotting states’ – Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt – was an outcome that could have been foretold. The UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr Anwar Gargash tweeted on Friday no sooner than Tillerson’s jet headed for Washington:

The four boycotting countries have each and every right to protect themselves, shut down their borders and safeguard their stability.

  • We are headed for a long estrangement. We are very far from a political solution involving a change in Qatar’s course, and in light of that, nothing will change and we have to look for a different format of relations… The four boycotting countries have each and every right to protect themselves, shut down their borders and safeguard their stability. The measures they had taken, in this context, will continue and will be boosted… We are moving towards a boycott, which will prolong on the basis of the evidences before us. As Qatar cries over political sovereignty, the four states are also exercising their sovereignty.

The UAE minister seemed rather pleased about the ‘new normal’. Nonetheless, the Western powers are queuing up to mediate. Close on Tillerson’s heels, France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is having a shot at it. He arrived in Doha on Saturday.

Read more: US moves to break deadlock in Gulf Crisis

Le Drian said in Doha, “France is calling for these measures (by the boycotting states) to be lifted.”

Qatar has put a hell of a lot of money in the French kitty – arms deals, investments and so on. Unsurprisingly, Le Drian said in Doha, “France is calling for these measures (by the boycotting states) to be lifted.” It costs him nothing to say so. From Qatar Le Drian proceeded to Saudi Arabia where he met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

France and Britain seeking to play a mediating role

France is aiming at a big expansion of business ties with Saudi Arabia within the ambit of MbS’s pet project ‘Vision 2030’. In 2015 France and Saudi Arabia agreed in principle on a massive arms deal worth $12 billion.

In remarks to reporters Saturday evening, Le Drian said France seeks to play a supportive role to Kuwaiti-led mediation efforts to reduce tensions. France’s relations with Saudi Arabia are also very substantial. France is aiming at a big expansion of business ties with Saudi Arabia within the ambit of MbS’s pet project ‘Vision 2030’. In 2015 France and Saudi Arabia agreed in principle on a massive arms deal worth $12 billion.

Imperial Britain handpicked the Al Thani tribal chieftain as Qatar’s hereditary ruler. Under the trucial system as per the 1916 treaty, Qatar relinquished its autonomy in foreign affairs, such as the power to cede territory, and other affairs, in exchange for Britain’s military protection from external threat.

As soon as Le Drian leaves the region, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson will be arriving. Britain, of course, was the original creator of the state of Qatar one century ago. Imperial Britain handpicked the Al Thani tribal chieftain as Qatar’s hereditary ruler. Under the trucial system as per the 1916 treaty, Qatar relinquished its autonomy in foreign affairs, such as the power to cede territory, and other affairs, in exchange for Britain’s military protection from external threat.

Today Britain keeps an air base in Qatar and the military ties continue to be very close. Trade is not much, but Qatar is a major investor in Britain, while British-Dutch oil major Royal Dutch Shell is the second biggest investor in Qatar (after Tillerson’s old firm ExxonMobil.)

Read more: The Gulf crisis: A coming out of small states

Johnson’s Saudi visit has a piquant backdrop. British government is sitting on an inquiry report into Saudi funding for extremist Islamist groups in UK due to its “sensitive contents” that might derail a lucrative $4 billion dollar arms deal between London and Riyadh.

At the bilateral level with the Gulf countries even as Qatar and Saudi Arabia will bend over backward to secure the endorsement from them for their respective case in the rift.

Indeed, the ‘new normal’ in the Gulf may work just fine for the Western powers, creating new space for them to negotiate their business interests at the bilateral level with the Gulf countries even as Qatar and Saudi Arabia will bend over backward to secure the endorsement from them for their respective case in the rift. Britain’s cynical attitude to the Saudi support for terrorism or the Trump administration’s ambivalence toward the US legislation that allows families of the 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia can be regarded as typical attitudes where business interests trump political morality.

But then, what is this business of support of ‘terrorism’ that Tillerson or Le Drian or Johnson would seek to eradicate from the region? When Qatar and Saudi Arabia financed and equipped al-Qaeda affiliates and Islamic State and recruited fighters for the terrorist groups to advance the ‘regime change’ agenda in Syria, they had done it with the full knowledge and acquiescence of the Western intelligence.

Read more: Gulf crisis: can its resolution reshape the future of international relations?

The well-known author and Middle East expert at Durham University (UK) Christopher Davidson nicely summed up the diplomatic pirouette pantomime playing out in the Gulf when he told the AFP last week, “For public consumption at least, the US State Department is trying to send out a signal that it has worked hard with its three allies — Saudi, UAE, Qatar — to try to find a mutually agreeable solution. Britain, and now France, are also trying to do much the same. Underneath the surface, however… the US – including Tillerson – likely sees significant strategic and lucrative benefits to any long-running stand-off between these states.”

M. K. Bhadrakumar has served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings as India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes extensively in Indian newspapers, Asia Times and the “Indian Punchline”. This piece was first published in Indian Punchline. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

 

M. K. Bhadrakumar has served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings as India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes extensively in Indian newspapers, Asia Times and the “Indian Punchline”.

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