OBG: In what ways has Qatar's foreign policy changed since the early 1990s?
AL THANI: The principles of Qatar's foreign policy have not changed a lot. Indeed, the fundamental tenets have remained constant. We base our foreign policy on the principles of international legitimacy, the rule of law and our adherence to the UN charter and other international agreements and protocols. We have always believed in resolving conflicts, be they bilateral or regional, through negotiations rather than the use of force. Furthermore, we in Qatar have been engaged in a learning process, in which we've had to adapt, modify and develop our foreign policy in ways that would safeguard our independence and sovereignty. We continue to seek peaceful co-operation, both with our neighbours and with our friends in the international community.
OBG: How does the newly enhanced security relationship with the US affect Qatar's relations within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and with other Arab states?
AL THANI: Qatar's relationship with the US, and indeed with other friendly nations in the world, is a matter of national sovereignty based on choice, as well as on bilateral agreements. I do not think that our relationship with any particular country should be a matter of concern to other states. Moreover, Qatar is not the only member of the GCC or the Arab League to have strong relations with the US, whether strategic, political or economic. Our relationship with the US is not directed against anyone else, but rather is a relationship based on mutual interests and shared values.
OBG: While the current security arrangement brings a high level of protection, can it also be seen as a sacrifice of independence?
AL THANI: Quite the contrary. We look at our relationship with the US from a viewpoint of common interests and not as a framework of protection. That is not how we conduct our foreign policy, and I do not think it's the way the Americans conduct theirs. Indeed, while we are in agreement with the US over many issues, we equally have disagreements, and we discuss these as friends and allies. This, for us, is another expression of our independence and sovereignty.
OBG: What is Qatar's position with regards to the "Greater Middle East Initiative" recently proposed by the US administration?
AL THANI: Although we believe firmly in the need for economic progress and development as well as political reform in our region, we also realise that the Arab world lags far behind the rest of the world in terms of socio-economic performance and political democratisation. Thus, any help by our allies and friends to achieve these objectives of reform and development would be welcomed, as long as this help is presented on a basis of partnership, dialogue and co-operation between equal and independent parties.
OBG: What would have to happen for Qatar to consider strengthening its ties with Israel, as it did briefly in the mid-1990s?
AL THANI: We in Qatar have always believed in the necessity of reaching a peaceful and just settlement for the Palestinian problem and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Towards this objective we supported the peace process to bring about a peaceful settlement based on UN resolutions, thus assuring that the Palestinian people would regain their legitimate rights of self-determination and independence by ending Israel's occupation of the territories it took in 1967. For Israel to become an active and accepted member of this region, it should withdraw totally from Syria's Golan Heights and Lebanon's Shabaa Farms. It should also recognise the right of return or compensation for Palestinian refugees. It needs to end oppression and the vicious circle of violence, death and destruction which will serve no purpose on either side. We call upon the international community to exert more efforts to bring that about, and we, for our part, will be more than happy to contribute in whatever way we can to bring the process back to life.
OBG: Do al-Jazeera's broadcasts ever interfere with your conduct of foreign policy?
AL THANI: We have always said that al-Jazeera is an independent news organisation which neither reflects nor represents the official policies of the Qatari government. Indeed, al-Jazeera was a result of a firm decision by His Highness the Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, to create a free and independent media, one that is capable of expressing and criticising the policies and the governments of the region and the world, including those of Qatar. The Emir abolished the Ministry of Information and removed all kinds of censorship and restrictions from the press with the exception, of course, of those relating to public order and morality. Unfortunately, not only some of our brothers and neighbours, but also some of our friends in the world, still find it difficult to draw the distinction between what they see and hear on al-Jazeera and Qatari government policy. We have tried our best to explain the distinction to them, and we will keep trying, because for us the right of free speech is a major pillar of our drive towards democratisation and has been enshrined in our new constitution.
OBG: What are the ministry's priorities for expanding Qatar's diplomatic presence throughout the world?
AL THANI: We have been working hard to expand our diplomatic representa-
tion in countries with which now we enjoy good relations. We have also been delighted at the reciprocal expansion of diplomatic representation of these countries in Doha. At the end of the day what we are striving for is to establish Qatar as an active and vibrant member of the international community.
OBG: Is Qatar emerging as a regional rival to Saudi Arabia?
AL THANI: No, we do not look at ourselves as rivals to any neighbouring country. Qatar is a small, peace-loving nation, and we look to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a major regional power. We see the Saudi people as our brothers and sisters. So we are definitely not in competition with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, nor with any other members of the GCC, with whom we have historic and deep-rooted cultural, family, political and social relations.
OBG: Has the former territorial dispute with Bahrain over Hawar Island been resolved to the satisfaction of both sides?
AL THANI: Yes, indeed it was, and we take great pride over the way this dispute was resolved. Civilised and brotherly behaviour by both sides led to a satisfactory settlement that may not have been 100% in line with either side's original aspirations, but rather an acceptable and just compromise. It was a brave decision taken by HH the Emir to refer the dispute to international arbitration through the International Court of Justice (ICJ), and it was an equally brave decision by our brothers in Bahrain to accept that referral. Henceforth, both sides have agreed to accept and respect the verdict reached via the ICJ.
OBG: Are there any remaining border questions between Qatar and its neighbours?
AL THANI: No, I'm happy to say there are none.
OBG: What is Qatar's position with regards to the US-led coalition's ongoing occupation of Iraq?
AL THANI: Qatar's position vis-à-vis the situation in Iraq is to resolve the situation based on the principles of maintaining Iraqi unity and sovereignty and providing the Iraqi people with the means to elect their own democratic, representative government, freely and independently. We don't subscribe to the view that calls for an immediate withdrawal of the coalition forces, but rather we call upon them to complete the job they began and fulfil their responsibilities and make sure that the Iraq they leave is a unified and secure country at peace with itself and its neighbours.
I believe that this will take the co-operation of all parties concerned in the region as well as the UN and the international community as a whole.
OBG: Have relations with Russia been seriously strained by the assassination of the former Chechen president on Qatari soil?
AL THANI: We sincerely hope not. What happened with the assassination of the former president of Chechnya was a dangerous and unacceptable precedent, something that we considered an act against our sovereignty and a breach of the rule of law in our country. We also look at it, however, as an isolated incident which we hope will not adversely affect the overall framework of friendly relations between Russia and Qatar.
As such, while we stress the necessity for the due process of law to be exercised, we look at it now as a matter for our courts to decide.