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Al Jazeera English’s ‘UpFront’ interview with Qatar’s Foreign Minister Khalid al Attiyah

October 28, 2015 at 5:21 pm

In a wide-ranging interview with Al Jazeera English’s current affairs show, ‘UpFront’, Qatar’s foreign minister Khalid Al Attiyah discussed the war in Syria, relations with Iran and Israel, and the 2022 World Cup controversy.

Despite having recently claimed that Qatar would consider “military intervention” to protect the Syrian people from Bashar al Assad, Al Attiyah ruled out the possibility of Qatari ground forces or air strikes being deployed: “No, this is out of the question to have our soldiers’ [feet] on the ground… No, no, they can liberate their country themselves. What they want is financial support, they want people to listen to them.”

Asked by ‘UpFront’ host Mehdi Hasan about Qatar’s support for controversial rebel group, Ahrar al Sham, which has been accused by human rights groups of possible war crimes, Al Attiyah said: “I don’t think Ahrar al Sham committed any of these crimes.” He also “guaranteed” that the group has no links to Al Qaeda, despite the late Ahrar al Sham commander Abu Khalid al Suri once proclaiming his allegiance to Al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri.

Questioned on the issue of democracy, the foreign minister said: “We have our own democracy…which everybody is happy with.”

Referring to the Emir of Qatar’s recent call for a dialogue between Gulf countries and Iran, the Qatari foreign minister said: “We don’t see the dispute with Iran in the region as a Sunni-Shia thing… What we are seeing and what we are fearing is an Arab-Persian conflict which we want to avoid.” Al Attiyah also urged Iran to “calm down the language… to help facilitate” dialogue between the two sides.

On the Israel-Palestine conflict, Al Attiyah said that, in the absence of a peace process, “I don’t think we are in a position to have any cooperation with Israel at this stage”.

Commenting on the mounting violence in Jerusalem and the Occupied Territories, Al Attiyah referred to Israel’s “provocation” over the status of the Al Aqsa mosque and warned the Israelis: “You are offending 1.5 billion Muslims when you are talking about the Masjid Al Aqsa…and we have raised the flag before.”

Al Attiyah said it was “dangerous” that the occupied West Bank was now in the midst of a “third intifada,” which he warned could become “the worst intifada” so far: “The people who went to the street… [were] born after the Oslo Treaty and they saw there is no hope.”

On the subject of Qatar’s hosting of 2022 World Cup, the country’s foreign minister claimed workers’ rights “are improving” and, when asked what his response was to English Football Association chief Greg Dyke’s prediction that Qatar would be stripped of the World Cup, responded: “I want to see his face when we host the 2022.”

“We deserve to have a 2022 World Cup in Qatar, an Arabic state…an Islamic country. The Arabic region needs such a tournament for the youth of the Arab region and I think we deserve to have one.”

The full interview with Khalid al Attiyah will be available online from 19.30 GMT onwards on 30th October 2015. Please add this link to your online copy if quotes are used. Follow UpFront on Twitter.