WASHINGTON  - The United Arab Emirates' ambassador to the United States said on Tuesday there was no military aspect to steps taken by Arab powers against Qatar, which they accuse of supporting terrorism, but that further economic pressure could be applied. 

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with Qatar and imposed stringent economic sanctions on it. Doha denies their accusations that it supports militants and Iran. Mixed messages from the United States, an ally to all parties in the crisis, also has appeared to complicate the diplomacy in a crisis that has reverberated across the Middle East and beyond. 

"There is absolutely no military component to anything that we are doing," UAE Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba told reporters in Washington. 

He said he has been in contact several times with US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to assure him the US military base in Qatar, Al Udeid, would not be affected by the crisis. Otaiba said the measures against Qatar were not an attempt to have the base moved "but if anyone asks we'd be willing to have that conversation." He pointed out a defense accord that the United States and the UAE signed last month would allow Washington send more troops and equipment there. 

Qatar said on Wednesday it had withdrawn its peacekeeping troops from the disputed frontier between Djibouti and Eritrea, after the two East African countries sided with Saudi Arabia and its allies in their standoff with Qatar. Qatar's Foreign Ministry did not give a reason for the move but it comes as Doha faces a diplomatic crisis with some of its Arab neighbors. They cut ties a week ago, accusing Qatar of backing Islamists and Iran, something Doha strongly denies. 

"Qatar has been an impartial diplomatic mediator in resolving crises and disputes between brotherly and friendly countries and will continue to be a major player in the international community," the ministry said in a statement. It did not specify the number of troops affected but said it had informed Djibouti's government of the withdrawal. Moving US air operations would involve a massive undertaking by the US military, which coordinates its air campaigns in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan from Qatar. The countries have designated dozens of people and entities with alleged links to Qatar as terrorists. When asked what further steps could be taken against Qatar, Otaiba said: 

"We’ve designated 59 people and 12 entities. It’s likely that you could see designations of their bank accounts and perhaps of the banks themselves. And so there’ll be an escalation of economic pressure, again, short of a policy shift or negotiations that lead to a policy shift." 

Otaiba said the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt were compiling a list of demands for Qatar that would be "handed over to the United States fairly soon." 

He said they would broadly address the three areas of support for terrorism, meddling in the internal affairs of these countries and attacks through Qatari-owned media platforms. 

Otaiba said the four nations are seeking a shift in Qatar's behavior through economic and political pressure. "It’s not our goal to undermine the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) but at the same time we don’t want a member of the GCC undermining us," he said. 

US President Donald Trump stepped into the crisis by appearing to side against Qatar and accused Doha on Friday of being a "high level" sponsor of terrorism. 

Saudi Arabia and Bahrain welcomed Trump's demand for Qatar to stop supporting terrorism. 

Otaiba said the White House was supportive of the Arab powers' position. Asked about Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's call for the UAE and other Gulf countries to take de-escalation measures to ease the crisis, Otaiba said, "That's not going to happen." 

Meanwhile, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan was sending his top diplomat to Qatar on Wednesday in a bid to broker an end to what he has called the inhumane behaviour of neighbouring Gulf States in severing ties with Doha and imposing sanctions. 

Turkey has backed Qatar in a dispute that has ramifications across the Middle East, from Cairo to Baghdad, and raised concerns in Washington and Moscow. Doha denies accusations by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain that it supports terrorism and courts regional rival Iran. 

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was scheduled to meet Qatar's emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani during a visit also expected to take him to Saudi Arabia. 

Qatar said on Wednesday it had withdrawn troops from the border between the east African states of Djibouti and Eritrea where the Gulf state has been acting as mediator in a border dispute. It gave no reasons for the move, but Djibouti had earlier downgraded its diplomatic ties with Qatar after the Gulf move against Doha. 

 

The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain appear to be violating people's human rights by threatening to jail or fine them for expressing sympathy for Qatar, UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein said on Wednesday. 

The four states, which have branded dozens of people and entities with alleged links to Qatar as terrorists, must respect citizens' rights, Zeid said. 

"It is becoming clear that the measures being adopted are overly broad in scope and implementation, and have the potential to seriously disrupt the lives of thousands of women, children and men, simply because they belong to one of the nationalities involved in the dispute," Zeid said in a statement.