By Philip Pullella
ROME (Reuters) – Demands made of Qatar by four other Arab states were designed to be rejected, Doha’s foreign minister said on Saturday, explaining that their ultimatum was aimed not at tackling terrorism but at curtailing his country’s sovereignty.
However Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, speaking to reporters in Rome, added Doha was still ready to sit down and discuss the grievances raised by its Arab neighbors.
He was speaking ahead of a deadline set by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt for Doha to accept 13 demands. Officials say they are aimed at ending a rift that erupted last month over accusations that Qatar supports terrorism, charges it denies.
“This list of demands is made to be rejected. It’s not meant to be accepted or … to be negotiated,” Sheikh Mohammed said, adding that Qatar was willing to engage in further dialogue given “the proper conditions”.
The demands included severing ties with terrorist groups, closing down the pan-Arab Al Jazeera satellite channel, downgrading ties with arch-rival Iran and closing a Turkish air base in Qatar.
Arab states have said the demands are not negotiable and warned that further unspecified measures will follow if Qatar does not comply.
But Sheikh Mohammed was adamant.
“Regarding the demands and our position, we have been from the beginning very clear on this. We are not going to accept anything that infringes on our sovereignty or anything that is imposed on Qatar,” he said.
Qatari officials have repeatedly said the demands are so draconian that they suspect the four countries never seriously intended to negotiate on them and were instead seeking to hobble Doha’s sovereignty.
Asked if he feared any military moves, he said his country was not afraid but believed that wisdom would prevail.
“International law should not be violated and there is a border which should not be crossed,” he said.
He spoke after arriving from the United States. Washington is helping Kuwait, which has retained ties with Qatar, to mediate in the dispute..
Speaking to Reuters on the sidelines of the news conference, he said that the demand by the Arab states that Qatar close the Turkish air base was “out of the question.”
NATO ally Turkey has backed Qatar in the dispute.
“We are not going to retreat from any agreement we have already signed. We really appreciate the relationship we have with Turkey,” he said.
He also told the news conference Qatar would not shut down Al Jazeera, saying other Arab countries could start their own competing network if they wanted to.
(Additional reporting by Sami Aboudi, William MacClean and Mostafa Hashem, Editing by Gareth Jones)