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Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani
Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Qatar
Foreign Affairs Columnist
Chief Washington Correspondent and Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent, NBC News;
Host of “Andrea Mitchell Reports,” MSNBC
President and CEO
FREDERICK KEMPE: Hello and welcome. I’m Fred Kempe. I’m president and CEO of the Atlantic Council. Today we are delighted to welcome to our headquarters His Excellency Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani, the prime minister and minister of foreign affairs of the state of Qatar.
His Excellency has served as the prime minister since March of 2023, while also retaining his position as foreign minister which he has held for eight years now, beginning in January of 2016. The prime minister is known all around the world for his leadership in conflict mediation, and he has a remarkable track record of success. In just the last few months, the prime minister has helped secure the release of one hundred Israeli hostages, the delivery of aid to Gaza, mediated a US-Iran prisoner exchange, facilitated the release of ten American hostages in Venezuela, and negotiated the release of Ukrainian children from Russia, among other accomplishments.
As the Middle East has plunged into renewed conflict, following Hamas’s October 7 terrorist attack on Israel, concerns of escalation are growing. Hezbollah in Lebanon, Shia militias in Iraq and Syria, the Houthis in Yemen all represent potential drivers of further escalation. It is against this background that we come together today and recognize the prime minister’s position—his country’s position as a key ally of the United States and role as a pivotal mediator in the region, a position that is more crucial than ever. Your Excellency, it is a privilege to welcome you to the Atlantic Council.
We’re fortunate to be joined today by two leading journalists: David Ignatius, Washington Post associate editor, foreign affairs columnist, and author of eleven novels; Andrea Mitchell, chief Washington correspondent and chief foreign affairs correspondent for NBC News, and host of MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports.” Mr. Prime Minister, there are no two better journalists and no more qualified journalists to join you in conversation. So, thank you for taking the time to join us.
And with that, I will turn it over to you, David and Andrea.
ANDREA MITCHELL: Thank you very much, Fred Kempe, and our thanks to the Atlantic Council. Our thanks to you, Sheikh Mohammed, for coming here and taking questions after a long weekend of negotiations in Paris. We know that you were in Paris with the representatives from the United States, Egypt, and Israel, all focusing on the release of the hostages. That there’s a plan, a framework, that you all agreed to this weekend to release the hostages in agreement with a phased pause in the fighting—women and children first—and to continue this in phases as you proceed, with aid going in as well.
This has been presented, as we understand it, now to Hamas. In the past, they have insisted on an immediate permanent ceasefire before any hostages can be released. Do you think there’s a chance that they might agree to this, or would their veto be a dealbreaker?
MOHAMMED BIN ABDULRAHMAN BIN JASSIM AL-THANI: Well, first of all, I would like to thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak here today at the Atlantic Council. And I am honored to be with both of you, Andrea and David.
Well, actually, I think that right now I would describe the progress that we are achieving, that we are making in the last couple of weeks, is—we are in a much better place than where we were a few weeks ago. We have seen that the whole process was working in November that resulted in the release of 109 hostages. And unfortunately, this process fell apart at that time. And the intensity of the war actually increased. That made the situation more complex.
As you have highlighted, that there was a clear demand of the permanent ceasefire ahead of the negotiations, which I believe that we moved from that place to a place where it potentially might lead to a ceasefire permanently in the future. And this is what we are all aiming for, because we’ve seen also the suffering of the people in Gaza and we’ve seen the amount of destruction over there.
Now, our main role as mediator is trying our best to get a negotiated solution where it can bring the hostages safely back to their homes, yet also stopping the bombing, you know, and the continuation of the killing of the civilians. We’ve seen the numbers are increasing dramatically. And, I mean, what I think that we are seeing in Gaza is not resulting with—is not getting any result to get the hostages back. But the process is the one which is getting them back.
Now, what you have laid, Andrea, I don’t know where did you get all these details on the proposals and the framework, but I can say you are well informed. We have—I think yesterday was good progress made to get things back in shape and at least to lay a foundation for the way forward.
We cannot say that this makes us, you know, in better shape very soon. But we are hoping, actually, to relay this proposal to Hamas and to get them to a place where they engage positively and constructively in the process, because we think that in today’s world, I think that’s the only game in town now. And that will be the only way to get the situation de-escalated. And we hope that both parties take this opportunity to get, of course, to make the war stop, but also to get the hostages back to their—
ANDREA MITCHELL: Let me ask you, as a follow-up, whether—if the United States retaliates against Iran for the attack in Jordan that killed at least three American soldiers, and dozens more are injured, if that were to happen, do you think that that would scuttle the deal?
MOHAMMED BIN ABDULRAHMAN BIN JASSIM AL-THANI: Well, first of all, Andrea, I expressed my condolences today to the secretary in our meeting for the loss of the three soldiers. And we are hoping that the injured will—
ANDREA MITCHELL: To Secretary Blinken.
MOHAMMED BIN ABDULRAHMAN BIN JASSIM AL-THANI: To Secretary Blinken, yeah—will recover soon. And, of course, the attack that happened in Jordan is condemned—infringing Jordan’s sovereignty. Also undermining the efforts of the coalition anti-ISIS is not something that can be accepted.
What—actually, what we’ve been warning from is the bigger picture in the region. And we’ve been warning from day one that this war has a potential of expanding and spillover in the region. And we are seeing this building up unfortunately in the last three months and a half.
I hope that nothing would undermine the efforts that we are doing or jeopardize the process. Yet, it will definitely have an impact. One way or another, it will have an impact on the regional security. And we hope that things get contained and not to get escalated beyond control.
DAVID IGNATIUS: Sheikh Mohammed, you said earlier, in answer to Andrea’s question, that you’re waiting for an answer from Hamas to this question of whether they’re willing to accept a prolonged pause in fighting but not a permanent end of the war, which Israel, as I understand it, is not ready to offer. What if Hamas says no? What’s plan B here? Because the situation, as you know better than anyone, on the ground in Gaza is horrific.
MOHAMMED BIN ABDULRAHMAN BIN JASSIM AL-THANI: Well, I think that—look, David, first of all, putting an end for this war now is becoming not only a demand of the people in Gaza; it’s a regional demand, and it’s getting beyond this. We have seen the amount of destruction that’s happened. We have seen the number of victims. We cannot punish an entire population for an act of a small group.
Now, what would be the plan as an alternative for this deal? We have to seek for another way, for another means to get to a breakthrough where we can get a deal together. We cannot—we are an intermediary party here. We are not a party of this conflict and we are trying our best to bridge the gap is the framework that yesterday been agreed upon with all the parties, was a framework based on what’s been proposed by the Israelis and what’s been a counterproposal from Hamas and we tried to blend things together to come up with some sort of a reasonable ground that brings everybody together.
Now, we don’t know and we cannot predict what Hamas’s response will be and we are sure that we will be faced with some challenges and obstacles. But—and it’s not an easy process since we embarked on it from day one in the war, but we are committed to continue to carry forward and to come up with some solutions that provide the ground for everyone to move forward.
DAVID IGNATIUS: If they say no, are you prepared to pressure them? You have a lot of leverage on Hamas.
MOHAMMED BIN ABDULRAHMAN BIN JASSIM AL-THANI: Well, David, this is—actually this point that you have raised I’ve been hearing this a lot about the leverage and the pressure. That proper role needs to be understood clearly in this context. Our role is mediator. We try to bring the parties to bridge the gaps between them, pressuring them—pressuring both of them by words, by meetings, by commitment, by addressing the issues with some solutions. That’s the pressure and the leverage.
Beyond this leverage we don’t see that Qatar is a superpower that can impose something on this party or the other party to bring them to that place. Basically, we are using our good offices to connect, to bridge gaps, to put solutions, to come up with some alternatives. That’s what Qatar has as an ability. And this way has worked—has worked previously in the process in Gaza, has worked in the process between the US and Iran, has worked in a process between the US and Taliban, and it’s been working between Ukraine and Russia with the Ukrainian children. So that’s the way that Qatar is operating.
ANDREA MITCHELL: Sheikh Mohammed, Israel has today released evidence supporting its claim that at least twelve employees of the UN Relief Agency—UNRWA—had participated or supported the October 7 massacre and the evidence is compelling enough that the UN fired them. The United States and other countries have cut off funding temporarily while it’s being investigated.
Doesn’t this validate Israel’s claims against the UN, which Secretary Blinken has said is the only game in town for getting aid in? And, you know, the implications are that there will be more reluctance to get the aid in which is so critical for the Gazans, for the Palestinians there, the civilians, and critical to the hostage deal.
MOHAMMED BIN ABDULRAHMAN BIN JASSIM AL-THANI: Well, actually, the role of the UN is very important in that front, the role of UNRWA itself, and we’ve been seeing the suffering that they have been facing, with the Qatar funding, that’s happened to them—and not now only, but even the shortage in funding that’s happened to them in the last few years. It’s the only agency that can provide help and aid for the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.
Now, if there are claims against some of the staff to their role—as I recall, around twelve staff who have involved in this—these claims needs to be investigated. UNRWA needs to take their measures, according to their charter. But it cannot be punished because of the act of some employees, as long as they are complying with their—
ANDREA MITCHELL: Including kidnapping a woman, according to the allegation?
MOHAMMED BIN ABDULRAHMAN BIN JASSIM AL-THANI: Well, no, actually. None of the—first of all, we don’t know about the allegation yet until the investigation comes out yet. It’s a behavior of an individual or a group, small group of people, among tens of thousands who are working in UNRWA. It cannot be, like, a way to label the entire agency as violating or adopting such an act. We believe in the importance of the UN. We believe in the importance of UNRWA as an agency. And we believe also—we have a confidence that they will follow what their rules are having them to follow. I mean, it’s—as they mentioned, they are taking all the measures. They are investigating. And they fired them this morning. So this is—this is—at least, you know, they are doing their part as an agency. But it cannot be a label for the entire agency.
ANDREA MITCHELL: And finally, did Israel agree—as part of the agreement this weekend in Paris—did Israel agree to accelerate the aid deliveries, which would be through the UN?
MOHAMMED BIN ABDULRAHMAN BIN JASSIM AL-THANI: Well, actually, look, unfortunately—and this is something that we’ve been repeatedly saying—that’s—you know, it’s not a way to use the humanitarian aid, as a leverage or as a pressure on the people. People in Gaza are dying from starvation. We have seen the suffering that they are going through is something unprecedented. We’ve never seen before in any conflicts. And just let us—you know, shelters. And even with the safe zones that they’ve been allocating and dedicating for them since the start of the conflict, they’ve been bombed in those safe corridors, in those safe zones. And there are no place safe for them over there. So this shouldn’t be part of any deal yet. Unfortunately, it’s been used as a bargaining chip all the time.
DAVID IGNATIUS: Sheikh Mohammed, as you said at the outset, we’re on the edge of a much wider war that could involve the United States, Iran proxies, maybe even Iran. So I want to ask you two questions. First, after this attack that killed the three Americans in northern Jordan, is Qatar prepared to condemn that attack as something that is wrong?
MOHAMMED BIN ABDULRAHMAN BIN JASSIM AL-THANI: Well, actually, that’s—I just mentioned that very clearly. We condemn any act that try to—first of all, to undermine the security and the stability of the region, infringing the security of a country like Jordan, for even killing soldiers who are part of a coalition that we are a member. So it’s not something that can be acceptable. Yet, we are saying that in order to get and to rescue the region from being—going, you know, through, like, more and more suffering, through more escalation, is really to find a solution and to put down what’s happening in Gaza. That’s a key thing.
DAVID IGNATIUS: So you’ve favored at every stage mediation, diplomacy, and de-escalation. I want to ask you if you are playing any mediating role now with the Houthis, and what messages your government is sending to Iran, with which you have good relations?
MOHAMMED BIN ABDULRAHMAN BIN JASSIM AL-THANI: Well, actually, there is not any mediation role that we are playing with the Houthis right now. But we are in continuous conversation with Iran about the regional situation and the regional escalation. We are in continuous conversation with other—
DAVID IGNATIUS: What do you say to Iran?
MOHAMMED BIN ABDULRAHMAN BIN JASSIM AL-THANI: That we would like them to use their links and their relations with everyone, with all the forces, to de-escalate and not to get the situation out of control. As you just mentioned about the Houthis, what’s happening—disrupting the trade—international trade in the Red Sea is something affecting all of us. Freedom of navigation is something very important for my country, for the entire region, for the world. And something unacceptable to be messed up with. Yet, we are seeing that the situation is boiling up here and there, and everyone, unfortunately, is dancing at the edge. And we have seen what happened yesterday with the attack on and killing the Americans is a result of being—trying to do some operations here and there to undermine the regional security or to show that some pressure—yet it resulted with the killing of three soldiers.
ANDREA MITCHELL: In leaked audio on Israel’s Channel 12, Prime Minister Netanyahu can be heard criticizing your country, criticizing Qatar. He says: “I don’t thank Qatar for the previous hostage releases. Why? Because, for me, Qatar is essentially no different from the UN, it is essentially no different from the Red Cross, and in a way it’s even more problematic.” Does that make it harder for you to deal with Israel as you are dealing with Israel this weekend in Paris?
MOHAMMED BIN ABDULRAHMAN BIN JASSIM AL-THANI: Well, honestly, Andrea, I don’t want to comment on such statements. And we are not expecting thanks from him or from anyone. We understand our role. Our role, we believe it’s important. We’ve been very honest from the beginning. We’ve been very transparent with everyone. And our role has proven that it’s getting results and not just putting out some statements or using it for political exploitation. And being, like, similar to the UN or to the Red Cross, those are humanitarian organizations, so we are proud to be among this club.
ANDREA MITCHELL: The prime minister has also said that he’s against a Palestinian state and that his goal is to eliminate Hamas, its leadership and its fighters, as part of this military campaign. Do you think that that is possible without jeopardizing the lives of the hostages?
MOHAMMED BIN ABDULRAHMAN BIN JASSIM AL-THANI: Well, first of all, the only way forward for us to have a peaceful region is a two-state solution. That’s what Qatar stood for. That’s what we are believing in. That’s what we believe that the entire region has adopted a long time ago. And the two-state solution will, of course, needs, like, partners on the other side. If we see a leader on the Israeli side who is opposing such a solution, then what’s the alternative—
ANDREA MITCHELL: Well, he would ask you, how can we live side by side with people who are dedicated to our elimination? So can there be a two-state solution as long as Hamas is in Gaza?
MOHAMMED BIN ABDULRAHMAN BIN JASSIM AL-THANI: Well, it’s not where Hamas—the obstacles of the two-state solution back in—after Oslo, and we didn’t see anything implemented from there. In 2001, when Arab Peace Initiative was presented, did Israel agree to at least engage in the process at that time with—or the Israeli government? I think that it’s not—opposing the two-state solution and just—it’s not something new that happened post October 7; it happened even—it was happening before that for decades.
So, for us as Arab countries, as my country, we are a country which believes in peace. We support the Palestinian cause. We support two peoples living side by side peacefully together. When we have seen hope in the nineties after Madrid and Oslo, Qatar was the first country in the Gulf that stepped up and opened an office, trade office, with Israel, and we had diplomatic relations at that time or trade relations at that time. Yet, we have seen that the other party or the partner for peace wasn’t serious about it, and that’s when Qatar decided just to close down this channel and just keep the ongoing working channel.
ANDREA MITCHELL: But getting back to Hamas, Hamas is dedicated to eliminating Israel, so doesn’t Hamas have to be out of Gaza before there can be peaceful coexistence?
MOHAMMED BIN ABDULRAHMAN BIN JASSIM AL-THANI: Well, look, I want, you know—this dedication of eliminating Israel, we know that now the only way forward is a two-state solution, is people living side by side next to each other. Now, whoever is accepting this principle, I believe this is—should be, you know—we should deal with them in a very positive manner. But the ones who are not accepting such a principle, what is the alternative that we are providing for the people who are willing to accept this principle? That’s the key issue.
DAVID IGNATIUS: Your Excellency, I want to ask two questions about what we describe as the day after, the day after this terrible war ends and what governance would look like. The first is whether you imagine that Hamas would play a role in the governance of Gaza and of an eventual Palestinian state. Israel would strongly oppose that. What would Qatar’s position be?
MOHAMMED BIN ABDULRAHMAN BIN JASSIM AL-THANI: Well, our position is that the fate of the Palestinians should remain at the hands of the Palestinians. They are the ones who should decide what will be the way forward. For us, we see that the way forward, that Gaza cannot be addressed separately or in isolation from the West Bank. And there should be one government that takes care of Gaza and the West Bank together. We have the Palestinian Authority, whatever their reforms they are willing to do.
But yet this is a decision of the Palestinians, the Palestinian factions. Those are the ones who can decide who should govern them, not—neither Qatar or Israel nor anyone, I believe, in a position to impose on them something else or what we believe is right for them.
DAVID IGNATIUS: I take it from your earlier comments, in answer to Andrea, that you think Hamas should accept Israel’s right to exist as the price of being part of the future. Is that a fair statement?
MOHAMMED BIN ABDULRAHMAN BIN JASSIM AL-THANI: Well, I think that the statement that I am saying, that everyone—now, I’ll just take a step back. Whether it’s Hamas, Fatah, or any political ideology or political party, it’s—this ideology is an idea. For you to challenge this idea is to present a better idea. And the better idea here is the two-state solution.
Now, whoever is opposing the two-state solution, if the majority is agreeing to, I think the people themselves will have the answer to that. So that’s why I’m saying that we are not in position to decide on behalf of the Palestinian people. They have—they can decide on their own. And we believe that the only way forward that’s being embraced and, you know, adopted by everybody, including the Palestinian Authority, is to have the Palestinian state living side by side to Israel.
DAVID IGNATIUS: Quick final question. Prime Minister Netanyahu, but many others, including many US officials, have said that a future Palestinian state should be effectively demilitarized, able to take care of security but not able to launch wars against its neighbors. Do you agree with that?
MOHAMMED BIN ABDULRAHMAN BIN JASSIM AL-THANI: Well, we don’t want to see any country able to launch a war against its neighbor and we want to live, you know, peacefully within Qatar. But—
DAVID IGNATIUS: Specifically, what about a Palestinian state?
MOHAMMED BIN ABDULRAHMAN BIN JASSIM AL-THANI: But I think that any peace plan should include enough security guarantees for both people that they don’t represent threats to each other.
ANDREA MITCHELL: We’ve been told credibly that—I mean, there’s documentary evidence of the way the women were treated, women who were dead, who were killed on October 7, women hostages as well—the rape, sex being used as a weapon of war, and that there have been abuses continuing in their captivity. So there’s such a priority on releasing these women who should have been released back in November when that was the agreement.
What hope can you present to the hostage families? You met with them in Doha. You’ve reached out to them, your country. Some of them are here in the audience. What message can you give to the hostage families of getting their children, their relatives, home?
MOHAMMED BIN ABDULRAHMAN BIN JASSIM AL-THANI: Well, of course, these kind of acts are unacceptable and are condemned. And this is something that no faith—no human being can accept. And we—regarding our role in Qatar, trying our best to get those hostages free, this is something that we’ve been doing from day one, even without being asked. When we have seen the situation erupted, we reached out to Hamas right away and we were demanding to release all the hostages.
Unfortunately, things went to another direction and didn’t work out the way everyone wanted at the beginning. Yet, we have been very persistent and committed to the process that led to the first release. We are hoping for this process to—you know, to continue to produce for us some good results and release the rest of them.
And what my message all was to them, that—to them and to the Palestinian people—that we are committed to put down this conflict, to release the hostages. His Highness the Emir has been repeatedly very persistent on making sure that all of us we are working toward that direction. Whenever we are hearing disturbance and noises here and there, he always says we shouldn’t care about these, you know, negative things, as long as it’s going to result with saving a single life; that would be worth it for us. And that’s what Qatar stood from the beginning and will continue standing for.
DAVID IGNATIUS: You’ve been living with this crisis since soon after October 7 as a mediator, following it day to day with Israeli Mossad officials, CIA Director Burns, and others. I want to ask you, as somebody who’s so close to it, the question that was put to General Petraeus at the beginning of the Iraq war, which is, tell me how this ends. In your mind, as a mediator, what does the Middle East look like in five years if you’re successful in your mediation?
MOHAMMED BIN ABDULRAHMAN BIN JASSIM AL-THANI: Well, it depends to what direction this mediation will—if we will get to a situation where the war’s ended and we go back to the same previous status, which is separate Gaza and the West Bank, no hope for a particular resolution, and the region remains as a hostage of, you know, some political dynamics happening here or there, then we are going to be in a much worse situation five years from now and the situation will not—the attack that happened on October 7, there is another one, there is a bigger war will happen. And honestly, we don’t see, like, a positive prospective out of it. But if we are going to seize this opportunity, we are going to ensure that after this there is an international commitment for a peaceful resolution, for a two-state solution; there is a clear path for the Palestinians, for their statehood; then it will be a much better picture for all of us and much better prospective in the region. And we are hoping to choose this path, not to go with the previous path.
ANDREA MITCHELL: Do you think Iran would agree with that? Its—Iran’s proxies, the Houthis, Hezbollah, Hamas.
MOHAMMED BIN ABDULRAHMAN BIN JASSIM AL-THANI: Well, it’s—look, I don’t want to speak on behalf of any country, yet I’m telling you that my position as state of Qatar, our position there and the state of Qatar, our position in the region, that we are agreeing for this, as long as the region and the parties are agreeing to this. That will be the best guarantor for the future process.
ANDREA MITCHELL: We have questions now, David and I, we are receiving from the audience, both here and virtually. From Thomas Warrick: Hamas put out a statement in English two weeks ago justifying its October 7 attack. Notably they call for a Palestinian state but fail to call for a two-state solution. Will you publicly call for Hamas to publicly accept a two-state solution?
MOHAMMED BIN ABDULRAHMAN BIN JASSIM AL-THANI: Well, actually our call for the entire Palestinian people is to accept the two-state solution. That’s our position and that’s what we see as the only way forward for us.
DAVID IGNATIUS: So I’m looking at the next question, Mr. Prime Minister. You’ve repeatedly said that Qatar is a neutral mediator which has no leverage over the parties other than words, yet it’s been widely reported that for years the top leadership of Hamas has lived in Qatar. How does that square with your claim of being a neutral mediator? Do you really have no leverage over an organization whose top leaders live in your country? And that comes from Professor Orde Kittrie.
MOHAMMED BIN ABDULRAHMAN BIN JASSIM AL-THANI: Well, I think that this living in Qatar is being always, like, taken out of context. Qatar has Hamas political office now for almost eleven years. It happened in full coordination with the United States to establish communication channels and to be used in resolving the situation in the region. It has managed multiple de-escalation ceasefires throughout the years. And it’s proven to be effective. We hosted Taliban political office that resulted to the agreement between US and Taliban. And it doesn’t mean that being there, hosting them, is a leverage that we have over them. And Qatar’s role has been very clear, very transparent, dealt with in very close coordination, whether it’s with the US or with the other parties that are related to any conflict. So we don’t see this as a point of leverage. We see this as a point—as a channel of communication that we are using always for good causes.
DAVID IGNATIUS: Brief follow-up. I want to ask you whether the Israeli Mossad, their intelligence service with which you’ve dealt now for some years, has been a reliable negotiating partner.
MOHAMMED BIN ABDULRAHMAN BIN JASSIM AL-THANI: Well, actually, the negotiation that we have, like, accomplished, whether it’s on this conflict or on the previous conflicts, it was always happening through them. And we have seen the results, actually. That’s the best judge for it.
ANDREA MITCHELL: We have a question that has been submitted anonymously. I want to read it though because the question is about the collapsing situation in Sudan, with the Qatari role to end the crisis over there. Especially, what is the—excuse me—Qatari role to end the crisis over there, especially with Qatar’s success before in Darfur peace talks, and the ability of Qatar to group the Sudanese parties. I asked this—just coincidentally, I was there with our UN ambassador on Chad’s side of the border questioning refugees. And the toll on the civilian population in Darfur, as it was when I was there in 2005 with the secretary of state at the time, Condoleezza Rice, it is horrific, and largely ignored by the world. But does Qatar have a role?
MOHAMMED BIN ABDULRAHMAN BIN JASSIM AL-THANI: Well, to see what’s happening in Sudan is heartbreaking for all of us. And we’ve seen the suffering that the Sudanese people has been going through now for the last year. But it’s even going beyond that. Qatar right now specifically—we are not playing any specific role in what’s happening in Sudan. Yet there is a process in place with Saudi. And we are very supportive for the process, in order to get them to an agreement between the fighting parties and to translate to, like, a more permanent status for the government of Sudan, and to put down this war as soon as possible.
DAVID IGNATIUS: I want to ask a question of my own and then turn to one from our audience. I’ve often visited Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, which is one of the largest US military bases overseas. You’re a mediator between the US and various forces, like Hamas and others. Talk a little bit about your alliance with the United States and the bet that you’re making on the United States by having that huge base there.
MOHAMMED BIN ABDULRAHMAN BIN JASSIM AL-THANI: Well, actually, I believe that our relationship with the US has been always strong. I mean, this is an alliance that we built decades ago between the two countries. And it’s not only on defense, security, and regional security. It’s going beyond that. It’s on—there are strong economic partnership between the two countries, huge investment presence for state of Qatar in the United States, huge investment by American companies in Qatar. And the energy sector, of course, is a partnership that we are proud of. And American companies are working together very closely with us in the area of education, with six American universities being in Qatar and serving as a hub for the region to be provided with a US education within the region. So this relationship has been always very stable, very strong, very institutional. And that’s what’s safeguarded the relationship.
Of course, when we see that we are helpful and we can provide support for the US in different conflicts we always, of course, look at this as an opportunity just to strengthen the bonds between our two countries. And I believe that this is something good for Qatar to have reliable partners such as the United States, but also good for the United States to have a reliable partner like the state of Qatar.
DAVID IGNATIUS: Let me just paraphrase this question from Yad Shamal: How can the existing diplomatic and mediation be stepped up to get us from where we are, which is conflict—worsening conflict—to peace and stability? Do we need an international conference? Do we need a greater role for the UN? What more can be done to bring this home?
MOHAMMED BIN ABDULRAHMAN BIN JASSIM AL-THANI: Well, I think that there is ongoing, regional efforts right now together with some international partners in order to see what’s the way forward. I think that all of us, we are very much calibrated toward how to seize the opportunity right now and to put everything on track and to go toward a two-state solution and a peaceful resolution in the entire region.
Just let us picture this. If we can put an end for this conflict that’s been lasting for decades the entire face of the region will change and anyone who will claim the opposite, the people of the region are the ones who are going to stand against it.
ANDREA MITCHELL: Let me also add one of mine. We talked earlier about your concerns about an escalation at this point, given what happened in Jordan and now the pledge from the president of the United States to retaliate. He’s being pressured by Senator Graham and other critics to go directly to Iran, to retaliate inside Iran.
If he were to do that, since deterrence clearly has not worked—There have been 160 attacks—would he be justified? What would be the impact if the US strikes inside Iran?
MOHAMMED BIN ABDULRAHMAN BIN JASSIM AL-THANI: Well, actually we don’t encourage any attacks to happen in any country in our region and we believe the ones who are responsible for the attacks, those are the ones who should be held accountable.
Of course, we are calling for de-escalation to contain the situation as much as possible and we are hoping that this doesn’t go and doesn’t reach to that level. Our region cannot just live with more escalation and further escalation and we have to focus on the main issue over there, getting things back and restoring calm in Gaza is going to be key to defuse all other escalations in the region.
ANDREA MITCHELL: But do you think what these militias have done there’s some evidence that may have come from Syria, from Iranian-backed militias there, what they and what the Houthis have done with the Red Sea? Could any of that happen without Iran arming them? Does it even go beyond that directed by the regime?
MOHAMMED BIN ABDULRAHMAN BIN JASSIM AL-THANI: Well, I—look, I will go back to the parties who are carrying on these contacts. They also are the ones who need to be held accountable for any misconduct or any attempt to undermine the peace and security in the region.
We are not in a position to point fingers on this or that right now and I believe that for us the key focus should be how we contain the situation, how we de-escalate it, how to address the real issue and not just to treat the symptoms.
DAVID IGNATIUS: A final question as we get near the end of our allotted time. In the past there’s been a lot of tension between your country Qatar and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia next door to you. How are relations today and where do you think they’re heading?
MOHAMMED BIN ABDULRAHMAN BIN JASSIM AL-THANI: Well, I think we are—we are in very good shape. Look, Saudi or Qatar, or Qatar-GCC relationship, it’s not just, you know, a traditional relationship; it’s a historical bond between all the countries. We are connected families. The societies are very much connected.
It’s not something, you know—to go through some difficulties from time to time, we understand this. We are trying to deal with it in a wise manner, and to overcome it, and to look, you know, for a better future.
Our relation with Saudi right now is very good, very strong. We are working together very closely when it comes to the conflict now in Gaza, as well. And also on a bilateral—on a bilateral level, I think the collaboration between Qatar and Saudi has been improving a lot in the past few years. And this is what we are focusing on, how to make sure that GCC relationship is always protected, always safeguarded, and how to build an area of common interest between all of us in order to avoid any differences in the future.
ANDREA MITCHELL: Well, thank you so much on behalf of myself, NBC News, and of course the Atlantic Council here welcoming us.
DAVID IGNATIUS: So, Sheikh Mohammed, I last talked with you at Doha. Like all of us, I’ve followed your efforts to mediate an end to this terrible hostage problem and the larger war with interest and appreciation. Thank you so much for talking with me and Andrea today and with the audience here.
MOHAMMED BIN ABDULRAHMAN BIN JASSIM AL-THANI: Well, thank you. Thank you very much for having me.
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