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Qatar Buys Italian Warships as Persian Gulf Crisis Deepens

DOHA, Qatar — Qatar agreed on Wednesday to buy seven Italian warships at a cost of nearly $6 billion in the latest example of checkbook defiance by the gas-rich country in its two-month-old feud with four neighboring Arab countries.

The military deal between Qatar and Italy, announced by the foreign ministers of both countries in Doha, Qatar’s capital, was the latest in a slew of diplomatic and economic moves suggesting that the crisis, the worst to hit the Persian Gulf countries in decades, shows little sign of abating.

Days earlier, Qatar brought its fight with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to international aviation and trade forums, and was even seen to have advanced a breathtakingly pricey soccer transfer as a means of flexing its muscles.

The measures were countered by implacable demands from the Saudi-led quartet, and offered a sense of the challenge facing Western officials, led by the Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, who have tried to defuse the crisis, so far in vain. On Tuesday, the State Department named Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, a four-star Marine general who retired in 2000, as a special representative to the Persian Gulf. He is expected to arrive in the region next week.

On Monday, Qatar lodged a complaint with the World Trade Organization against its neighbors, which have cut off all trade and diplomatic ties, and closed air and sea routes into the country. Saudi Arabia has shut Qatar’s only land border.
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Qatar also sought help this week from the United Nations aviation body, the International Civil Aviation Organization, in a bid to open new air corridors through the Emirates, which are currently closed.

A senior Qatari official said in an interview on Wednesday that his country would adopt a more aggressive strategy to attract foreign investors in a bid to snatch business away from its regional foes.

The four nation bloc, which accused Qatar of fomenting extremism, has issued a sweeping list of 13 demands, including the closing of Qatar’s influential television station, Al Jazeera, and a small Turkish military base, as well as the expulsion of several Islamists.

Qatar has rejected the demands, which it says amount to a surrender of its sovereignty. It has painted the dispute as a drive by bullying neighbors to crush Qatar’s maverick, open-door foreign policy.
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Western countries allied with both sides have found themselves in a diplomatic bind, even as they continue to sell expensive weapons system in the region.

The Italian warship deal that was completed on Wednesday involves the purchase of four corvettes, an amphibious vessel and two patrol boats. It was Qatar’s second major arms deal since the crisis began. In June, the United States agreed to sell Qatar F-15 fighter jets worth $12 billion.

Such deals are about more than military procurement for tiny Qatar, which has just 300,000 citizens but also possesses the world’s largest reserves of natural gas. Just as important, the purchases serve as means of cementing ties with Western allies, which in turn provides a strong diplomatic counterweight in Qatar’s often fractious dealings with its larger Arab neighbors.

A sprawling American air base near Doha with 9,000 American service members, from which American war planes attack the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, has complicated the Trump administration’s approach to the crisis.

Qatari officials confirmed on Monday that they intended to take a more aggressive approach to longstanding business pacts in the gulf.

A senior Qatari official said the country intended to introduce a new law in the coming weeks that would drop restrictions on foreign investment, such as requiring a local partner for outside investors, in an aggressive bid for new business.

Until now, the official said, Qatar and its neighbors adhered to an unwritten agreement to avoid competing with one another in specified business domains. He said Qatar would now make an aggressive bid for foreign investments of all kinds.

In Washington, both sides have spent millions of dollars in recent weeks on lobbying contracts in a bid to influence to Trump administration, whose policy is divided, with President Trump criticizing Qatar and Mr. Tillerson defending it.
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