Qatar has set out a strong defence of its independent foreign policy, arguing that it is based on principle rather than enmity towards its larger GCC neighbours. Speaking at a Doha press conference on 18 July, Qatari Foreign Affairs Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr al-Thani acknowledged that Doha had been out of step on several key GCC foreign policy issues, but added: ‘Our policy is based on honesty…we are not doing it to offend or annoy anybody.’

The highly unusual decision by Doha to call a press conference came just two weeks after Qatar had declined to support a final communique issued by seven other Arab states, condemning the continuing fighting in Yemen and demanding an immediate cease-fire (MEED 15:7:94). The move was the latest in a series of foreign policy differences with its GCC partners.

Sheikh Hamad said that Doha needed to develop contacts with all regional states. ‘Qatar is a small country trying to establish good relations with all its neighbours,’ Sheikh Hamad said. ‘We are not prepared to adopt a hostile position to a certain side because it is involved in a dispute with someone else to which we are not a party.’ The minister said that ties with Baghdad had been maintained to alleviate humanitarian suffering and with Tehran, because the Islamic republic had not shown ill-will towards the state. On the Yemeni issue, Sheikh Hamad argued that outsiders had no business in interfering in the internal affairs of another country. As for Israel, Doha had made contact in the belief that the Arab boycott would no longer be justified once it withdrew from the occupied territories and the Golan heights. However, he added that no further contacts were planned until Tel Aviv had fulfilled its commitment to withdraw.

Sheikh Hamad denied that Qatar’s divergence from official GCC policy was aimed at undermining Saudi Arabia’s position. ‘We have strong and historical ties with Saudi Arabia,’ he said ‘We do not disagree for the sake of disagreement.’ However, the minister said that no progress had been made about establishing a joint commission with Riyadh, agreed in December 1992, to demarcate the border between the two states. The commission was announced after clashes took place on the Qatari-Saudi border in September, 1992.