DOHA, Qatar — Qatar’s defense minister said on Tuesday that his country’s long-term strategic “ambition” is to join the Western military defense alliance NATO.
Speaking on the anniversary of a year-long bitter Gulf diplomatic dispute, which has seen Qatar separated from its former regional allies, Khalid bin Mohamed Al-Attiyah said Qatar wanted to become a full member of the 29-country alliance.
“Qatar today has become one of the most important countries in the region in terms of the quality of armament,” Attiyah told the official magazine of the Qatari defense ministry, Altalaya.
“Regarding the membership, we are a main ally from outside NATO. The ambition is full membership if our partnership with NATO develops and our vision is clear.”
He added that there was a growing relationship between Qatar and the alliance, and Doha could host “NATO’s units or one of its specialized centers”.
His remarks come at a politically sensitive time in the region.
Exactly a year ago, on June 5, 2017, a group of countries including Saudi Arabia the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt abruptly severed ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism and Iran.
For the past year, Qatar has been isolated by its neighboring former allies with its only land border closed by Saudi Arabia and its residents expelled from the quartet’s countries.
Qatar claims the dispute is an attack on its sovereignty and punishment for pursuing an independent foreign policy.
Diplomatic efforts have proved fruitless and the crisis threatens to undermine one of the previously most stable regions in the Arab world.
Although there have been no outright hostilities, the shadow of military action has darkened the rift.
Earlier this month it emerged that Saudi leaders threatened “military action” and asked French President Emmanuel Macron to intervene to prevent Qatar’s proposed purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense missile system.