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Turkey's military presence may complicate Qatar solution

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Qatar REUTERS/Thomas White

Efforts to resolve a diplomatic dispute pitting Saudi Arabia and its allies against Qatar intensified after Washington offered to mediate the biggest crisis to grip the Gulf in years.


As Kuwait's emir shuttled between Gulf capitals for talks, US President Donald Trump offered to host a White House meeting if necessary.But earlier on Turkey’s parliament approved the deployment of troops to a Turkish base in Qatar amid the crisis.

The Turkish parliament on Wednesday approved the presence of about 600 Turkish troops to be stationed near Doha, a decision that was fast-tracked as a result of the crisis.

“Turkey was not in a position to back down from the policy that it has been following in order to maintain credibility,” says professor Iltar Turan of Bilgi University in Istanbul.

“Because not coming to the support of Qatar now would essentially create the impression of being an unreliable partner. Turkey had a commitment, they had it in the making, there are already a number of Turkish soldiers in Qatar, so they simply proceeded with the ratification of the agreement,” he says.

Meanwhile, US president Donald Trump has changed his tone somewhat, and now seems ready to mediate in the crisis, even hinting at organizing a summit in Washington to defuse the tension.

However, the situation remains difficult for Washington. With Turkey getting actively involved it means that one of Washington’s major Nato allies is taking sides.

“The United States seems now to help easing the friction between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, rather than siding with Riad. And the fact that the US did object to Turkey’s growing military relations with Qatar indicates that Washington may not make it an issue that could stand in the way of good relations between Turkey and America,” he says.

That Qatar allows the Turkish army on its territory and accepts help from Iran, may look like a gamble, but as a result of the increasing pressure from Saudi Arabia and its allies, authorities in Doha seem to feel increasingly cornered.

“There is a chance that the Saudis will do to Qatar what they did in Bahrain,” says Foad Izadi, a political analyst with Tehran University, referring to the Saudi army moving into Bahraini territory in 2011 to quell anti-government protests.

“They may try to interfere in the politics of Qatar, and maybe remove the current Emir,” he says. “It is obvious for the Qatari government to get worried about what’s going on.

“They are reaching out, to Turkey, to Iran. So in general terms, Iran does not have any problems with Qatar defending itself, and it does not have any problems with good relations between Turkey and Qatar,” he says.

In fact, in spite of complaints by Saudi Arabia that Qatar is getting too close to its arch enemy Iran, Tehran, like Turkey, is open to helping Doha.

“The only side of Qatar that is not blocked is the North,” says Izadi. The South and East are blocked as well. The only country that is not blockading Qatar is Iran at the North side. Iran has said that they will do their best to help with food supplies, the Turkish government has done the same.

Turkish military in Qatar 08/06/2017 - by Jan van der Made Listen

In this way, the blockade does not affect at least the Qatari citizens, although container shipping companies such as Maersk and Cosco have complained they cannot reach the ports.

But for now a flurry of diplomatic activity is still aimed at defusing the situation with the latest move of Trump, the Emir of Kuwait shuttling around the region, and so maybe the crisis won’t last as long as everybody expected before.