Qatari foreign minister says Arab rivals' demands were made to be rejected, but Doha is open to dialogue
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.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told Reuters news agency that the demand by the Arab states that Qatar close the Turkish military 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.
However, Sheikh Mohammed, speaking to reporters in Rome, added that Doha was still ready to sit down and discuss the grievances raised by its Arab neighbours.
He was speaking ahead of a deadline set by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, 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 militant groups, closing down the pan-Arab Al-Jazeera satellite channel, downgrading ties with arch-rival Iran and closing a Turkish military 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.
Sheikh Mohammed spoke after arriving in Rome from the United States. Washington is helping Kuwait, which has retained ties with Qatar, to mediate in the dispute.
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.
Earlier on Saturday, the Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin had separate telephone discussions with the leaders of Qatar and Bahrain about the rift and stressed the need for a diplomatic solution.