Australian MPs boycott Qatari envoy over Doha airport incident

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he had relayed his government’s ‘strong disapproval and outrage’ at what had happened to the Qatari government. (Reuters)
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Updated 30 October 2020

Australian MPs boycott Qatari envoy over Doha airport incident

  • Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison ‘outraged’ at strip-searching of women at Doha airport
  • Opposition Labor Party criticizes Australian government for not putting enough pressure on Qatar

LONDON: Australian politicians from across the political spectrum have withdrawn from a formal dinner hosted by Qatar’s ambassador to Canberra, over an incident at Doha airport earlier this month that saw female passengers removed from a flight to Sydney and strip-searched by local authorities.

Eighteen women, including 13 Australians, were removed without warning or explanation from a Qatar Airways flight on Oct. 2 and taken to be medically examined in ambulances in a carpark as staff sought to locate the mother of an infant found abandoned in an airport bathroom.

The passengers were reportedly told to remove their underwear as part of the examination to check if any of them had recently given birth.

Passengers from 10 other flights were also affected, according to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The politicians who turned down the invitation to dine with Qatari Ambassador Saad Al-Mahmood, all members of the Australian Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, had been due at his residence on Nov. 9.

“Due to the mistreatment of Australian women at Doha airport, we decline this invitation,” the committee’s Liberal Chair Andrew Hastie and Labor Deputy Anthony Byrne said in a joint statement.

“We fully anticipate that the Qatari government will investigate the mistreatment of Australian citizens and provide a detailed report to the Australian government.”

The opposition Labor Party also criticized the Australian government for not doing enough to apply pressure on Doha.

Shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfus said the events were a breach of international human rights law.

Senate Leader Penny Wong said: “I simply cannot fathom why our foreign minister didn’t pick up the phone when she heard about this and express the strongest possible protest, both to demonstrate how important it was for us, for it to have a reasonable response but also to register a protest.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he had relayed his government’s “strong disapproval and outrage” at what had happened to the Qatari government.

He added that he will “continue to take a very strident approach” in responding to the “appalling” events.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne telephoned Al-Mahmood on Oct. 6 to express her concern at the events in Doha, and to request a full report into the matter.

Relations between the two states are complicated by Australia’s reliance on Qatar as a trade partner — its second biggest in the Middle East and North Africa, worth $2.13 billion in 2019. Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund has also invested over $3 billion in the country.

Morrison said Qatar Airways was performing a vital role in carrying about 15 percent of all Australians home after being stranded during the coronavirus pandemic.

Australia also requires Qatar’s cooperation in the detention of a former Afghan soldier, currently being held in Doha and wanted for the murders of three Australian servicemen in 2012.

The Qatari government has said it regretted “any distress” caused by the incident, which it claimed was “urgently decided” as necessary after the infant was found in a rubbish bin.

Zarif ‘desperate’ to blame Saudi Arabia for anything negative that happens in Iran: Al-Jubeir

Updated 29 min 28 sec ago

Zarif ‘desperate’ to blame Saudi Arabia for anything negative that happens in Iran: Al-Jubeir

  • “It is not the policy of Saudi Arabia to engage in assasinations; unlike Iran” minister tweeted

JEDDAH: Iran’s parliament on Tuesday approved a bill requiring the government to boost uranium enrichment by 20 percent and end UN inspections of its nuclear facilities.

The move is being viewed by analysts as a show of defiance after the recent killing of prominent Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, an assassination for which Tehran has accused other countries of masterminding.

Saudi Arabia’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir said on Tuesday that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif was “desperate” to blame the Kingdom for anything negative that happened in Iran.

“Will he blame us for the next earthquake or flood?” he tweeted. “It is not the policy of Saudi Arabia to engage in assassinations; unlike Iran, which has done so since the Khomeini Revolution in 1979.

“Ask us and ask many other countries who have lost many of their citizens due to Iran’s criminal and illegal behavior,” Al-Jubeir added.

The latest bill would require another parliamentary vote to pass, as well as approval by the Guardian Council, a constitutional watchdog. Moreover, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the final say on all nuclear policies.

“There is no doubt that this step constitutes a threat, raising it to 20 percent means that it is close to building a nuclear bomb,” political analyst and international relations scholar Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri told Arab News. “The region is promised with a dark and unstable period.”

He said that the move indicated the Iranian regime’s insistence on destabilizing the region, and its determination to win the race to obtain nuclear weapons.

Enriching uranium to 20 percent is below the threshold needed for nuclear weapons but higher than that required for civilian applications. It would also commission new centrifuges at nuclear facilities at Natanz and the underground Fordo site.

“Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons or its proximity to achieving that goal will be a great danger to the region, and countries will seek to protect themselves, which will mean that everyone will resort to obtaining nuclear weapons. Fakhrizadeh’s death suggests that Iran was waiting for this opportunity to escalate,” Al-Shehri added.

The official IRNA news agency said 251 lawmakers in the 290-seat chamber voted in favor, after which many began chanting slogans against the US and Israel.

The bill would give European signatories to the 2015 nuclear deal three months to ease sanctions on Iran’s key oil and gas sector, and to restore its access to the international banking system.

“Many technical issues related to the nuclear bomb creation were not closely followed up by P5+1 (the UN Security Council’s permanent members of China, France, Russia, the UK, and the US, plus Germany),” said Al-Shehri.

“We also should not forget that Iran was not clear and was preventing and limiting inspections at its nuclear facilities, moreover, the International Atomic Energy Agency did not do its work properly so that the world could breathe easily.

“Iran may have the nuclear bomb by now without the international community taking any action against it.

“The assassination of a scientist will not change the equation, even the strikes on Iranian facilities would not affect the real Iranian infrastructure.

“Iran wasn’t confronted the way that would make the world comfortable, nor the way that a terrorist rogue state should have been treated as it distributed terrorism through its militias, ballistic missiles, and drones in the region,” he added.