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.
“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. Qatar vehemently denies the accusations.
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.
Jubeir told Reuters after a separate event that he did not expect the decision to harm the U.S.-led fight against Islamic State, even though Qatar is home to the largest U.S. air base in the Middle East, since strikes against the group were continuing from other air bases.
Gabriel told reporters that Jubeir agreed it was critical to avoid further escalations.
But he also said no members of the coalition fighting Islamic State should allow any government or private financing of militant groups, citing past reports about funding coming from Saudi-based foundations as well as Qatar.
At an event hosted by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung think tank, Jubeir said Saudi Arabia was committed to cracking down on terrorist funding. He conceded there was no “perfect record,” adding, “We don’t know what we don’t know.”
He said Qatar had failed to make good commitments made three years ago to curb funding for militant groups, and Riyadh had finally decided to try to spur its neighbour into action.
He said the decision to cut off ties was “made very painfully,” but he hoped it would lead to needed changes.
“We’re not interested in doing harm to Qatar or the Qatari people,” he said.
Additional reporting by Michelle Martin, Sabine Siebold in Berlin and Noah Browning in Dubai; Editing by Larry King