A week after saying Qatar would consider playing a more aggressive role in Syria, Qatar’s foreign minister has clarified that the country would not send its troops into the war-torn country.
Khalid Al Attiyah also warned Israel that it is “offending 1.5 billion Muslims” with its policies in Jerusalem and hit out at World Cup critics.
When asked if Qatar would provide military assistance to rebels fighting President Bashar Al Assad’s government forces, he added:
“No, this is out of the question to have our soldiers’ (feet) on the ground … What they want is financial support, they want people to listen to them.”
Al Attiyah’s remarks come as Qatar prepares to join the latest round of international talks on the Syrian conflict, scheduled for Friday in Vienna.
His comments followed an interview with CNN Arabic earlier this month in which he raised the prospect of a “military intervention,” saying, “Anything that protects the Syrian people and Syria from partition, we will not spare any effort to carry it out.”
An analyst who spoke to Doha News last week said it was unlikely that Qatar would send soldiers into Syria.
However, Michael Stephens – the director at the Royal United Services Institute in Qatar – suggested Al Attiyah’s remarks indicated the government may increase its support for rebels in response to Russia’s recent bombing campaign.
For the first time, Iran will be among the nations participating alongside Qatar in tomorrow’s Syria talks in Vienna.
Iran and the Gulf states have opposed rival groups in Syria, Yemen and Iraq, contributing to heightened tensions in the region.
In his Al Jazeera interview, Al Attiyah echoed remarks made by Qatar’s Emir at the UN and framed the differences between the two sides as a political, rather than a religious, division:
“We don’t see the dispute with Iran in the region as a Sunni-Shia thing,” the foreign minister said. “What we are seeing and what we are fearing is an Arab-Persian conflict which we want to avoid.”
He added that Iran should “calm down the language…to help facilitate” dialogue.
In contrast to his apparent willingness to find common ground with Iran, Al Attiyah ruled out any engagement with Israel.
Qatar hosted an Israeli trade office in Doha for more than a decade, but closed it in 2009 following Israel’s invasion of Gaza.
In recent years, Qatar politicians have repeatedly condemned Israel and voiced support for Palestinians in speeches at international forums.
“I don’t think we are in a position to have any cooperation with Israel at this stage,” Al Attiyah said, warning that the country is “offending 1.5 billion Muslims” with its handling of recent violence in Jerusalem and the Occupied Territories.
In the wide-ranging interview, Al Attiyah also said Qatar has “our own democracy…which everybody is happy with” and discussed the 2022 World Cup.
He said the much-criticized condition of low-income workers in Qatar is “improving” and said the country deserves to host the international football tournament.
“The (Arab) region needs such a tournament for the youth of the Arab region and I think we deserve to have one.”
He also took a shot at English Football Association head Greg Dyke, who has previously predicted the Gulf country would be stripped of the tournament.
“I want to see his face when we host the 2022 (World Cup),” Al Attiyah said.