Qatar's ruler voices willingness to talk to solve Arab rift

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Qatar's ruling emir said on Friday that his embattled Gulf nation remains open to dialogue with four Arab countries that have isolated it, but that any resolution to the crisis must respect his country's sovereignty.

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani made the comments in his first televised speech since a diplomatic dispute among the U.S. allies erupted more than a month and a half ago. He hailed the solidarity and resolve that Qataris have shown in the face of the crisis, and said it would make the tiny country, which will host soccer's World Cup in 2022, even more resilient.

"We are open to dialogue to iron out all the pending issues, not only for the benefit of our peoples and governments, but also to spare our region the pointless efforts to dissipate our gains," he said.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain cut diplomatic ties with Qatar and severed air, land and sea links with it on June 5 after accusing it of backing extremist groups. Qatar strongly denies the charge and argues the isolation effort is politically motivated.

They later issued a tough 13-point list of demands needed to resolve the crisis, including shutting down news outlets including Al-Jazeera, cutting ties with Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, limiting ties with Iran and expelling Turkish troops stationed in the country.

Qatar refused to bow to the demands within a 10-day deadline, and the anti-Qatar bloc has begun to shift its focus toward six principles on combatting extremism and terrorism.

In his televised address late on Friday, the emir said any resolution must respect Qatar's sovereignty and will, and cannot be based on the acceptance of orders dictated from outside.

The United States and other Western countries have dispatched senior envoys to the region to press both sides to resolve the dispute, which the Gulf nation of Kuwait attempted to mediate.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged Qatar's neighbors earlier in the day to lift a land blockade as a "sign of good faith." Qatar's only land border is with Saudi Arabia, and its closure has dramatically driven up import costs by cutting a major route for food and other supplies into the country.

During a round of shuttle diplomacy in the Gulf earlier this month, Tillerson sealed a deal with Qatar that calls for the Gulf state to bolster its fight against terrorism and address shortfalls in policing terrorism funding. The anti-Qatar quartet has said that agreement does not go far enough in addressing their concerns.

Tillerson, however, said Friday while meeting with the visiting foreign minister of Oman that the U.S. is satisfied with Qatar's efforts to address concerns about terror financing and counterterrorism.

Sheikh Tamim reiterated his country's willingness to fight terrorism on Friday. On Thursday, he issued a decree revising the country's counterterrorism laws — a move UAE Minister of State for Foreign Relations Anwar al-Gargash called a "positive step" in a Twitter post.

Qatari officials on Thursday linked the UAE to a cyberattack in May that sparked the crisis, saying it was coordinated with one of the members of the anti-Qatar quartet and that the UAE benefited the most from it.

The attack involved what Qatar says were fabricated comments attributed to the emir posted on the official state news agency and affiliated social media accounts in which he supposedly called Iran an "Islamic power" and said Qatar's relations with Israel are "good." Qatar swiftly disavowed the comments but state-owned and semi-official media in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain continued to report the remarks for days.

"The smear campaign and the unlawful measures that followed were preplanned and predesigned," Qatar's emir said in his speech Friday. "The perpetrators have undermined our sovereignty and independence by fabricating false statements to mislead international public opinion."

The UAE denies playing any role in the hacking.


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