Qatar Opposes Any U.S. War on Iraq, Considering Bases

October 16, 2002
KUWAIT - Qatar said on Tuesday it opposes any U.S.-led war against Iraq, but has yet to decide if it will grant Washington's request to use its bases for such an attack.

Qatar's Foreign Minister set out his Persian Gulf state's stance as the United States seeks UN Security Council approval for tough new powers for arms inspectors find and destroy what Washington says are Baghdad's weapons of mass destruction.

The United States has threatened military action against Iraq if it fails to comply with its demands and with UN resolutions, Reuters reported.

"Our view in Qatar is against any military action in the area and we hope Iraq will accept (UN) Security Council resolutions and the entry of the arms inspectors," Qatar's Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani told reporters upon arriving in Kuwait for high-level talks.

"Until now even America has not decided on military action.

This issue is being discussed in America and the UN.

"So it is premature for U.S. to state our position now," the minister said when asked if Qatar would block the use of its military facilities by Washington in case of a war.

"Nobody approached us until now" with a request to use Qatari bases in case of war, he added.

Qatar is increasingly becoming a key base for U.S. military operations in the region, with Washington boosting the capabilities of military facilities there and moving command structure officers next month to the tiny, gas-rich state.

By December, a $1.4 billion U.S. upgrade of Al Udeid Airbase in Qatar is due for completion with a state-of-the-art command and control room. Washington said this month it was negotiating with Qatar on the use of Al Udeid in case of war with Iraq.

"There is a resolution now being drafted in the Security Council and we hope it will be fair for both Iraq and the UN and to be accepted by Iraq so the region can avoid military action," Sheikh Hamad said of a U.S.-British effort to have a new resolution on toughened rules for weapons inspectors passed by the world body.

They have both warned Iraq, Kuwait's former occupier, of possible military action, but Baghdad denies it has nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

A clear dispute between Qatar and the dominant Persian Gulf Arab power, Saudi Arabia, is having some impact on war plans and the unity of Washington's main allies in the region, diplomats said.

On the surface, Persian Gulf sources said, the dispute is over what Saudi Arabia sees as programs that insult its royal family on the popular Qatar-based Al-Jazeera Satellite Channel.

But there are other differences over Qatar's general policies which the kingdom at times sees as negatively impacting its own approach over the Middle East crisis, dealing with the United States and other issues, the sources said.

"I do not want to get into the details of this issue," Sheikh Hamad said when asked about the dispute. "The ties between U.S. and Saudi Arabia are important and strong and if there is a misunderstanding it will be resolved in calm fashion."

After months of behind-the-scenes complaints by Saudi Arabia and a failed effort by Sheikh Hamad to go to the kingdom to tackle the dispute, Riyadh in September recalled its ambassador to Doha for consultations.

Sheikh Hamad, who came here in July, said on Tuesday his latest visit was not to request Kuwait's mediation in the dispute but to offer Qatar's full support after a U.S. marine was killed and another wounded last week in a "terrorist" attack during war games on a Kuwaiti island.

Persian Gulf sources told Reuters that Saudi Arabia, in what would be a major blow to Qatar, might boycott a December summit of the six-nation Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Qatar.

"We hope all will attend," the minister said when asked about a possible Saudi boycott.