June 15, 2017 10:00 am JST

Editorial: Washington must work to quell the Persian Gulf feud

Qatar and its neighbors need to mend fences to secure Asia's energy supplies

The skyline of Doha, Qatar (Photo by Keiichiro Asahara)

Several countries in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, have severed diplomatic ties with Qatar over what they call its support for terrorist groups.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar are among world's biggest oil and natural gas producers, and the schism between them is a destabilizing factor for the world economy. The international community must urge them to mend their relationship.

Saudi Arabia, which took the lead in pushing for diplomatic action against Qatar, cites its ties with Iran and Islamic fundamentalist groups operating in the region. While Saudi Arabia and Iran have clashed over a number of issues, Qatar has taken a conciliatory posture toward Tehran.

Despite this, Qatar has joined in the U.S.-led military campaign in Syria, together with Saudi Arabia. It seems reasonable enough to demand that Qatar end its support for radical Islamic organizations, which makes its neighbors nervous. But condemning Qatar merely for its close ties to Iran only deepens divisions in the Middle East.

It is regrettable that U.S. President Donald Trump recently made remarks on Twitter that may be interpreted as supporting the decision by Arab powers to cut ties with Qatar. Both Saudi Arabia and Qatar are important U.S. allies. Qatar hosts a large air base that serves as a crucial hub for U.S. military operations in the Middle East. Washington should work to ease tensions between its two friends.

Around the same time that Riyadh and its allies were breaking off ties with Qatar, there were two attacks in Tehran, one targeting the Iranian parliament and the other hitting the mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini, who led the Iranian Revolution. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Iran, which has until now been largely spared such attacks, has become a new target for Islamic State militants. Washington and Riyadh, which are committed to wiping out Islamic extremist groups, must not oppose Iran in this instance but cooperate with it.

Large natural gas reserves have fueled rapid economic growth in Qatar, a tiny peninsular state with a population of 2.3 million. It has the world's largest production capacity for liquefied natural gas. The country is set to host the 2022 World Cup soccer tournament.

Saudi Arabia has closed its land border with Qatar, which imports many daily necessities from its larger neighbor, causing many in Qatar to begin hoarding supplies. Adding to the tensions, many flights linking Qatar with other Middle East countries have been suspended.

Consumption of oil and LNG is growing in Asia, where many countries are enjoying prolonged economic growth. Their dependence on OPEC states, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, for crude oil is expected to rise in coming years. More Asian countries are using LNG as an energy resource. Thailand, for instance, has begun importing LNG from Qatar.

Instability in the Persian Gulf greatly affects Asia. There is a pressing need to heal the Middle Eastern rift.

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