As Qatar Dispute Rages, German FM Warns Against ‘Trumpification’ of Middle East

By James Carstensen | June 7, 2017 | 11:50pm EDT
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel. (Photo: Bundesregierung/Bergemann)

Berlin ( – German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel called Wednesday for a de-escalation in the diplomatic dispute between Qatar and some of its neighbors, shortly after accusing President Trump of exacerbating tensions in the region.

In a joint press conference with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, Gabriel indicated that Germany was prepared to act as a mediator and would “support all actions that contribute to defusing the crisis.”

Al-Jubeir declined. “We believe this issue can be dealt with among the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council,” he said.

“We discussed the crisis in the Gulf and the reasons for our actions towards Qatar. We did not ask for mediation from Germany or France.”

Saudi Arabia and its allies including Egypt, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates announced on Monday that they were severing diplomatic ties with Qatar over accusations of supporting Iran and Islamist groups, and closing air, sea and land links.

Yemen, the Maldives, Mauritania, Jordan and one of Libya’s two rival governments have all since announced steps in support of the Saudi-led initiative.

The rift comes just weeks after President Trump visited Saudi Arabia and called for Muslim nations to unite and “drive out” terrorists and extremists.

On Tuesday, the president tweeted that his visit to Riyadh was “already paying off.”

“They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar,” he said. “Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson  by contrast stressed the importance of dialogue and suggested that all GCC countries had more work to do when it came to acting against financial support for extremism.

After the Gabriel-Jubeir press conference, German foreign ministry spokesman Martin Schäfer said Berlin was contacting the State Department and National Security Council to seek clarification of the U.S. position on the crisis.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has not made any official statement on the matter, but her spokesman Steffen Seibert at a press conference Wednesday said Berlin appealed to all parties to “put aside” diplomatic tensions.

Gabriel has been more outspoken. In an interview with German business news outlet Handelsblatt, he said “a profound fight among neighbors is actually the last thing anyone needs in this situation.”

He warned of the perils of what he called a “Trumpification” of the dispute, saying it would be “particularly dangerous in a region already plagued by crisis.”

Describing the Middle East as “a political and a military powder keg,” Gabriel – a member of Merkel’s coalition partner Social Democrats (SPD) – cautioned that “a further escalation would serve nobody.”

Gabriel said Trump’s Middle East policies would lead to an arms race.

“The latest gigantic military deals by U.S. President Trump with the Gulf monarchies are exacerbating the risk of a new arms build-up,” he said. “That is the completely wrong policy approach and certainly not that of Germany.”

During his visit to Saudi Arabia, Trump signed arms deals worth $110 billion.

Germany’s call to de-escalate tensions may be a reflection of the country’s significant economic ties to Qatar, which is a shareholder in major companies including Deutsche Bank, Volkswagen, Siemens and national railway operator Deutsche Bahn.

In the case of Volkswagen, the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) is its largest shareholder, with a stake of almost $11.6 billion.

Hamburg-based container shipping company Hapag-Lloyd similarly has Qatar as its largest shareholder (at 14.4 percent), after completing a merger with the United Arab Shipping Company, a Gulf company that includes both the QIA and Saudi Arabia as major shareholders. As a result of merger, both a Qatari and a Saudi official sit on its supervisory board.

Felix Neugart, head of the German-Emirates Chamber of Commerce in Dubai feared that the Qatar crisis could have wide-reaching economic consequences, with oil prices falling while the dispute complicates communication among oil-producing OPEC nations.

“There will definitely be constraints due to the suspension of air and sea travel,” he said.

The dispute could also impact Germany’s sports industry, with leading soccer team Bayern Munich enjoying close ties with Qatar. The team conducts its winter training camps in the Gulf state, and signed a long-term sponsorship deal with the Doha Hamad International Airport in 2016.

At an Arab-German Economic Forum held last week in Berlin, Qatar Chamber chairman Sheikh Khalifa bin Jassim al-Thani said Qatari investments in Germany amounted to $25 billion in the automotive, technology, and banking sectors.

“Germany is a very essential partner to Qatar and the German economy is the strongest in Europe,” he said, adding that more than 200 German companies are operating in Qatar.

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