World News

German minister sees danger in 'Trumpification' of conflict in Gulf

BERLIN (Reuters) - German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel expressed alarm about the sudden escalation of tensions in the Gulf after Saudi Arabia and other states abruptly broke off ties with Qatar, warning of the dangers of “Trumpification” of relations in the region.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel attends a news conference in Ankara, Turkey, June 5, 2017. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

“I am extremely concerned about the dramatic escalation of the situation and the consequences for the entire region,” Gabriel told Germany’s Handelsblatt newspaper in an interview on Wednesday before a meeting with Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister.

Gabriel told reporters after the meeting with Adel al-Jubeir he was surprised by the intensity of the tensions erupting in the Gulf region, and urged all sides to work to end the crisis.

“Such a Trumpification of relations with one another is particularly dangerous in a region that is already rife with crises,” he told the newspaper, in an apparent reference to what critics say is the increasingly divisive rhetoric seen since the election of U.S. President Donald Trump last year.

“Qatar is apparently to be more or less completely isolated and existentially targeted,” he said, adding: “A further escalation serves no one. The Middle East is a political and military powder keg.”

Jubeir told reporters the Gulf states could resolve a row with Qatar among themselves without outside help.

“We believe this issue can be dealt with among the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council,” he told a news conference with Gabriel. German officials said he expressed optimism that the crisis could be resolved quickly.

Jubeir said he had not been officially informed of any U.S. investigation into the alleged hacking of Qatar’s news agency, a development which is part of the dispute.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain severed their ties with Qatar on Monday, accusing it of supporting terrorism and Iran, opening the worst rift in years among some of the most powerful states in the Arab world.

The three Gulf states announced the closure of transport ties with Qatar and gave Qatari visitors and residents two weeks to leave their countries. Qatar was also expelled from a Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen.

Gabriel warned that disagreements among Gulf states could weaken the U.S.-led coalition’s fight against Islamic State, and said Jubeir agreed it was critical to avoid further escalations.

But Gabriel also said that all members of the coalition fighting Islamic State should ban any government or private financing of militant groups, citing past reports about financing coming from Saudi-based foundations as well as Qatar.

Gabriel’s spokesman Martin Schaefer, speaking at the regular government news conference, said that Germany was worried that the crisis could affect the work of the U.S.-led counter-IS coalition, especially given the U.S. military’s use of an air base in Qatar, but that no impact had been seen so far.

Asked about Trump’s policies in the Middle East, Gabriel said Germany did not support a policy of “pure confrontation” against Iran.

Gabriel, a longtime critic of German arms sales, also criticised Trump’s recent large U.S. weapons sales to other countries in the Gulf.

“The latest gigantic arms sales of the American president with the Gulf monarchies increase the risk of a new arms race spiral,” he told the newspaper. “That is totally the wrong policy, and certainly not the policy of Germany.”

Trump sealed a $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia on his maiden foreign trip in May.

Additional reporting by Michelle Martin, Sabine Siebold in Berlin and Noah Browning in Dubai; Editing by Adrian Croft and Hugh Lawson