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Saudi Arabia And Neighboring Arab Nations Present Demands To Qatar


Saudi Arabia and its allies have presented 13 demands to the small Gulf country of Qatar, demands like shut down Al-Jazeera, the network watched by tens of millions of people across the Arab world, and break ties with Iran and extremist groups. Meet these demands, Saudi Arabia and its three allies tell Qatar, and we will restore diplomatic ties and trade. I asked Bernard Haykel, professor of near Eastern studies at Princeton University, what he makes of the demands.

BERNARD HAYKEL: It looks to me like an opening bid for a negotiation. The Qataris have been saying that this is an assault on their sovereignty, and they're not going to do a number of the things that are asked, like removing the Turkish military base or shutting down Al-Jazeera. But I think this is a good start frankly for the United States now to get involved and say, OK, here is the position that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain have stated; what is yours - because I think without America's involvement - and I mean intimate involvement - both President Trump and Secretary of State Tillerson - this is not going to get resolved. And we might end up in a year or more of this boycott continuing.

MCEVERS: Let's talk about that U.S. involvement for just a second. Given that President Trump recently had this visit with Saudi Arabia and the Emirates and has pretty well chosen sides in this conflict, do you think the U.S. can be an honest broker?

HAYKEL: Well, the U.S. has actually been, as it were, speaking out of both sides of its mouth. President Trump has clearly sided with the Saudis and the Emiratis, whereas the State Department and Secretary State Tillerson has been taking the opposite side, seems to have sided with the Qataris. And that confusion needs to be resolved. I'm not sure what that's about. It seems to me that Washington is still in disarray certainly on this issue.

MCEVERS: I want to talk about one of the demands to close down the Al-Jazeera network, which Qatar owns. Why is this so important to Saudi Arabia and its allies?

HAYKEL: It has always been a megaphone for Qatar to involve itself in the internal political affairs of other Arab countries. And I think that's annoyed virtually all the countries of the Middle East, all of whom are authoritarian. They don't like to see their dissidents being given air time.

MCEVERS: You know, these other countries have their own channels that, you know, espouse their own views from time to time in the Gulf region. But how likely do you think it is that Qatar would even consider shutting down this massive network?

HAYKEL: So I don't think it would shut it down. But what it has done in the past is that it has changed the editorial tone and content of Al-Jazeera. So there was a time, for instance, when Al-Jazeera was very anti-Saudi. And then when relations got better with the Saudis, they stopped that. So it - they do interfere in the editorial line and content of Al-Jazeera, and they're perfectly capable of doing that again.

MCEVERS: So how do you see it playing out?

HAYKEL: I hope that the U.S. will get involved very, very quickly and do behind-the-scenes negotiations so that this ends. As I said earlier, I think without America's involvement, this will not get resolved.

MCEVERS: Right. And so then where does it go from there, just continued boycott, continued...

HAYKEL: Yeah. I mean this - I think the Qataris are preparing for a fairly long boycott. They could probably withstand this. I mean they have the cash reserves to withstand it for at least a year, maybe longer. They've already rerouted most of the imports that they used to bring in from Saudi Arabia. They are now bringing them from other countries like Iran and Turkey. And so they can, you know, live with this boycott for some time. And that would not be a good thing I think for anyone in the region, especially as the region is now trying to present itself as a united front - the Arab countries, that is - against Iran. It weakens the position of the Arab countries.

MCEVERS: Bernard Haykel is professor of near Eastern studies at Princeton University. Thank you very much.

HAYKEL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.