France 24 – Former Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani granted a 30-minute interview to FRANCE 24. He discussed relations with Saudi Arabia as well as the ongoing Persian Gulf crisis, the war in Syria and the stalled Middle East peace process.
In an exclusive interview with FRANCE 24, former Qatari PM Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani said Doha was taken by surprise by the blockade decided by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and their allies in June 2017, claiming the real objective of this move was “to overthrow” the emir of Qatar. He pointed out that the Trump administration, after initially siding with the Saudis and Emiratis, had now reversed course. He added that for the time being, he did not see any hope for a solution to the crisis.
Meanwhile, Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani accused Saudi Arabia and the UAE of “breaking the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (PGCC)” by targeting Qatar. Moreover, he pointed fingers at the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, saying he was “not well advised”, that his decisions were made in a “weird” and “irresponsible” way, and that instead of using force inside and outside his country, he should focus on the well-being of his people. He also noted that after being initially hopeful about “MBS” and his self-proclaimed reform agenda, he had now changed his mind. “I am disappointed” by Mohammed bin Salman, the former Qatari PM told FRANCE 24.
He also took a swipe at the Emirati leader Mohamed bin Zayed, saying he was acting as a negative influence on the Saudi crown prince. He added that he still hoped the crown prince would come to his senses and become a true leader of the region.
On Iran, he urged the Trump administration to resolve its differences with Tehran in a peaceful way and also stressed that the PGCC needed to engage in a serious dialogue with Iran.
‘Assad has lost his country’
Commenting on the war on Syria, as Idlib province, the last rebel-held stronghold, is about to fall, Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani pointed to a “failure” of Bashar al-Assad. While the Syrian president may be winning the war militarily, he has “lost his country and his people”, the former Qatari PM insisted, warning that Assad’s victory may be temporary and that only genuine reconciliation could repair the country. He added that he doubted Assad would be ready to step aside and usher in a new leadership.
The former Qatari PM added that the failure of the international community in Syria was due to bickering within the coalition fighting Assad, citing Israel’s alleged support for Damascus as a major factor, as well as the infamous “red line” on chemical weapons that President Barack Obama refused to enforce in 2013. He added that while Qatar had been given the lead in supporting the Syrian opposition at the onset of the war, Saudi Arabia eventually decided to take the lead, fuelling tensions. Asked about the alleged Qatari support for the al Qaeda-linked al-Nusra jihadist group, he said that all coalition partners, including Western countries, were aware of the kind of support being offered to the various Syrian opposition outlets and that when a decision was made to withdraw support for al-Nusra, Qatar obliged.
Finally, asked about the Middle East peace process, the former Qatari PM said he “still believed in a Palestinian state” and that the Trump administration could broker a deal between Israel and the Palestinians. He lamented that the Trump administration was not talking to the Palestinians and warned that it had to change its approach and stop listening only to Benyamin Netanyahu and a handful of Arab countries in the region, namely Saudi Arabia and the UAE. He stressed that the Palestinians could not be pressured by force or money to accept a deal, and regretted that Saudi Arabia and the UAE were doing so in order to “please the American [Trump] administration”.