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The US must mediate the crisis in Qatar for sake of the Gulf

The US must mediate the crisis in Qatar for sake of the Gulf
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On Jan. 30, Trump administration officials will meet a high-level Qatari delegation that will include Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, Minister of Defense Dr. Khalid bin Mohammad Al Attiyah, Minister of Finance Ali Sharif Al Emadi, and Minister of Economy and Commerce Sheikh Ahmed bin Jassim Al Thani. 

This will be the largest official Qatari delegation to ever visit the United States, and it comes in continuation of the first U.S.-Qatari counterterrorism dialogue held last November. The U.S. has agreed to enhance cooperation to counter terrorist financing and substantially increase the sharing of information on terrorist financiers in the region.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinOn The Money: Amazon taps New York, Northern Virginia for new offices | What it means for the DC area | Dems target vulnerable commerce chief | Earmarks look to be making a comeback New IRS chief to make updating agency technology a priority Trade discussions resume between US, China MORE affirmed that the U.S. and Qatar will significantly increase cooperation on these issues to ensure that Qatar is a “hostile environment for terrorist financing.” The move builds on progress that has already been made; in July, Qatar became the first country in the Gulf to sign a memorandum of understanding on counterterrorism.

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Qatar has put in place a robust legal framework to combat money laundering and terrorist financing. Today, there are only two charities available to wire funds outside Qatar: the Red Cresent and the Qatar Charity (an NGO founded in 1992 that provides support to communities in need — from disaster relief to education and health care). In 2014, the Qatar Central Bank has established the Regulatory Authority of Charitable Activities (RACA), where each charity organization is required to register if it wants access to raise funds for charitable purposes and receive or send funds abroad.

 

RACA keeps a record of all transactions and has the power to dissolve any charity organization if it breaches its rules and regulations. All Qatari banks have implemented market-leading technologies able to identify suspicious transactions, screen financial transfers and remittance against data from OFAC, European Union, United Nations and the United Kingdom to insure no transactions are processed from the names of individuals or entities that are on these official black lists.

The standoff and blockade of Qatar by the rest of GCC countries remains intact with no signs of rapprochement. Mediation efforts led by Kuwait have failed to bring parties any closer to finding possible solution in what is certainly the worst crises GCC has dealt with in its 36-year history. Yet, the natural gas exports from Qatar to the UAE and Egypt continues without interruption. Companies from the GCC countries continue to trade at the Qatar Stock Exchange. Students enlisted in universities in Qatar coming from GCC countries are attending their classes regularly.

Qatar is now looking to the Far East, Europe, and the United States to boost trade and cooperation. It has recently imported livestock (by plane) to increase agricultural production, anticipating the launching of the first state-owned agricultural company on the stock market by the end of 2018, in an effort to reduce imports. This will further reduce Qatar’s food import needs, which now stand at 30 percent of annual consumption.

In September, Qatar opened the new Hamad Port, significantly reducing the impact of the blockade as large container ships can dock directly in Qatar instead in the United Arab Emirates where cargo was transferred to smaller vessels and send off to Qatar. Hamad Port will connect Qatar with ports in Pakistan, India, Turkey, and Oman. The Qatari ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, opted to engage in reforms, setting a minimum labor wage, enacting a law protecting foreign workers, a law allowing permanent residence cards to children from Qatari mother and foreign father, among others. The long term financial outlook for Qatar looks good. It is becoming clear that the blockade strategy had a very limited impact. 

Any calls for talk and negotiations, by any ruler in the region, would be seen as a major weakness, which no side can afford. A major concern is the potential spillover of the current crises.

Only America has the needed credibility in the region to mediate the resolution of this now nine-month long crisis. Sooner or later, the Trump administration will need to step in. In doing so, the U.S. can negotiate to further improve money-laundering and anti-terrorist financing measures, enhance cooperation and intelligence-sharing throughout the Gulf and work with the entire region in combating various forms of radicalism.

U.S. mediation would have the potential to provide a graceful exit strategy for all Gulf countries now stuck in a “who will blink first” poker game. The broken relationship between Qatar and the GCC cannot be easily repaired, if at all, but diffusing tensions, re-launching military and intelligence cooperation to eradicate ISIS, should remain a top priority. The Trump administration’s success in eradicating ISIS in Iraq and (almost completely) in Syria could be jeopardized by the current Gulf crises, which is certainly not in our national security interest.

Dr. Sasha Toperich is a senior fellow and director of the Mediterranean Basin initiative at The Center for Transatlantic Relations, SAIS, at The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington D.C.