Officials from Arab countries isolating Qatar meet in Cairo

A woman takes a photo of a black-and-white depiction of Qatar's emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, that has attracted signatures and comments of support from residents amid a diplomatic crisis between Qatar and neighboring Arab countries, in Doha, Qatar, Monday, July 3, 2017. A group of Arab nations early on Monday extended a deadline for Qatar to respond to their list of demands in a diplomatic crisis roiling the Gulf by 48 hours, saying Kuwait's emir requested the delay as part of his efforts to mediate the dispute. (AP Photo/Maggie Hyde)

CAIRO (AP) — Foreign ministers from four Arab nations seeking to isolate Qatar over its alleged support for extremist groups met on Wednesday in the Egyptian capital, just hours after they said they had received Doha’s response to their demands for ending the diplomatic crisis roiling the Persian Gulf.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain said in a joint statement earlier that they would respond “in a timely manner” to Qatar’s reply.

They did not elaborate on what steps they could take, though a major credit rating agency warned it had changed Qatar’s economic outlook to negative over the turmoil.

The four countries cut ties to the FIFA 2022 World Cup host early last month over its alleged support for extremist groups and ties with Shiite power Iran. Qatar denies supporting extremists and has defended its warm relations with Iran; the two countries share a massive undersea natural gas field.

The four Arab nations issued a 13-point list of demands on June 22, giving Qatar 10 days to comply. They later extended the deadline by another 48 hours at the request of Kuwait, which has acted as a mediator to resolve the crisis. That deadline expired early Wednesday morning.

There was no word yet on what went on during the Cairo meeting but a news conference was due later in the day. On Tuesday, intelligence chiefs from the four Arab countries also met in Cairo, likely to discuss the crisis, according to Egypt’s state MENA news agency.

What Qatar said in response to the demands remains unclear. It already had called the demands — which include shutting down its Al-Jazeera satellite news network, expelling Turkish military forces based in the country and paying restitution — an affront to its sovereignty.

The crisis has become a global concern as neither side appears to be backing down.

Qatar, the world’s biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas, hosts some 10,000 American troops at its sprawling al-Udeid Air Base. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been trying to ease tensions, while President Donald Trump’s comments on Qatar funding extremist groups back the Saudi-led countries’ position.

The nations could impose financial sanctions or force Qatar out of the Gulf Cooperation Council, a regional body known as the GCC that serves as a counterbalance to Iran.

Some Arab media outlets have suggested a military confrontation or a change of leadership in Qatar could be in the offing, but officials have said those options are not on the table.

On Tuesday, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel visited officials in both the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. He said Germany supported the UAE’s efforts at confronting those who fund extremists.

“We now have this opportunity to reach good results for the benefit of the whole region. The matter is not related only to the sovereignty of Qatar,” Gabriel said. “We have to come back to common work at the GCC and for the Europeans this is a very important matter. For us, the GCC is the guarantor of stability and security in the region.”

Meanwhile, Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan kept up the pressure on Qatar.

“To defeat terrorism, we must confront extremism, we must confront hate speech, we must confront the harboring and sheltering of extremists and terrorists, and funding them,” Sheikh Abdullah said. “Unfortunately, we in this region see that our sister nation of Qatar has allowed and harbored and encouraged all of this.”

Qatar’s foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, criticized the four Arab nations for trying to isolate Qatar “under the banner of fighting terrorism.”

Though Qatar Airways’ routes over its neighbors have been closed, along with the country’s sole land border with Saudi Arabia, Doha has been able to import food and goods from other countries. Its economy, fueled by its natural gas exports, seems to be weathering the crisis though there has been pressure on its stock market and currency.

The credit ratings agency Moody’s warned early Wednesday that it had set Qatar’s economic outlook to negative over the crisis.

“Public exchanges between the various parties in recent weeks and previous periods of heightened tensions between Qatar and other GCC countries suggest that a quick resolution is unlikely and that the stalemate may continue for some time,” Moody’s said. “Depending on the duration and potential further escalation of tensions, the dispute could negatively affect Qatar’s economic and fiscal strength. Absent a swift resolution, economic activity will likely be hampered by the measures imposed so far.”

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