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Under-pressure Qatar vows to boost gas production

President and Chief Executive Officer of Qatar Petroleum, Saad Sherida al-Kaabi, speaks during a press conference in Doha, on July 4, 2017. Energy-rich Qatar said it plans to increase natural gas production by 30 percent over the next several years, as it faces pressure from its neighbours in a diplomatic crisis. / AFP PHOTO / STR

Under-pressure Qatar vowed a major boost to gas production Tuesday as a deadline approached for Doha to meet the demands of Arab countries engaged in a blockade against it.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt — who accuse Qatar of supporting extremism — gave Doha an extra 48 hours to address their grievances after an initial 10-day deadline expired on Sunday.

Qatar’s foreign minister handed an official response on Monday to Kuwait, which is mediating in the dispute, but its contents have not been disclosed.

The demands included Doha ending support for the Muslim Brotherhood, closing broadcaster Al-Jazeera, downgrading diplomatic ties with Iran and shutting down a Turkish military base in the emirate.

The four countries cut diplomatic and transport links with Qatar a month ago and have suggested further sanctions could be imposed if Doha does not comply.

Qatar, which denies any support for extremists, has been defiant, saying it will not bow to pressure and that the demands seem designed to be rejected.

The country is the world’s leading producer of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) and on Tuesday the head of state-owned Qatar Petroleum said it was planning a significant production increase over the next several years.

Saad Sherida Al-Kaabi told a press conference that the emirate intends to be producing 100 million tonnes of natural gas a year by 2024, up 30 percent from current levels.

“This new project will strengthen Qatar’s leading position,” Kaabi said. “We will remain the leader of LNG for a very long time.”

Some officials have suggested if Qatar does not cooperate Riyadh and its allies could tell foreign companies to choose between doing business with them or with Doha.

Kaabi said Qatar wanted the production increase to be carried out through a joint venture with international companies but that Doha could go it alone if necessary.

‘Absolutely no fear’
“We have absolutely no fear of having the embargo in place,” he said. “If there are no companies willing to work with us we will go to 100 million (tonnes), 100 percent.”

Riyadh and its allies have also accused Doha of being too close to their regional arch-rival Iran, which shares an enormous gas field with Qatar in the Gulf.

The increase in production will come from the doubling in size of a project in the North Field.

The crisis has raised concerns of growing instability in the region, home to some of the world’s largest energy exporters and key Western allies who host US military bases.

Qatar’s gas riches have transformed it in recent years into one of the world’s wealthiest countries, a major international investor and a regional player that will host the 2022 football World Cup.

Qatar has also pursued a more independent foreign policy than many of its neighbours, who tend to follow the lead of regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia.

Egypt is to host the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE on Wednesday to discuss the diplomatic crisis, the worst to hit the region in years.

UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan said Tuesday it was “premature” to discuss what further action might be taken against Qatar.

Any measures that are taken will be “within the framework of international law,” Sheikh Abdullah said at a press conference in Abu Dhabi with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who was due to travel to Doha later Tuesday.

After talks with Gabriel on Monday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Qatar’s reply to the demands would be “examined with precision” and expressed hopes for a “positive response to be able to resolve the crisis”.

On Monday, British lawyers for Qatar denounced the demands as “an affront to international law”.

“They are reminiscent of the extreme and punitive conduct of ‘bully’ states that have historically resulted in war,” the lawyers said.

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