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Germany's Steinmeier left waiting on tarmac in Qatar

Jessie Wingard
November 29, 2023

Standing with arms folded at the doors of the airplane was probably not how German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier thought he would spend almost 30 minutes of his official three-hour visit to Doha.

German President Steinmeier (left) traveled to Doha to speak with Qatari officials but was left waiting at the door of his plane
German President Steinmeier (left) traveled to Doha to speak with Qatari officials about the release of hostages held by HamasImage: Rosalia Romaniec/DW

The sun shone. The red carpet had been rolled out. A military honor guard had assembled. Even Germany’s ambassador to Qatar, Lothar Freischlader, was on hand. The only problem, no Qatari official was in attendance to formally welcome German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier to Doha.  

Arriving slightly ahead of schedule, Steinmeier waited in the blazing sun at the door of the Bundeswehr’s Airbus A350 for almost half an hour before Sultan al-Muraichai, Qatar’s minister of state for foreign affairs, arrived to receive Germany’s head of state.  

Even with the delayed diplomatic formalities following al-Muraichai's arrival, Steinmeier departed the airport on time for his scheduled meeting with Qatar’s ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. 

More than a 30-minute mix-up?

The diplomatic bungle left DW journalist Rosalia Romaniec, who was traveling with Steinmeier, wondering whether a mistake had been made with the planning or if officials in the Arab nation had cooled towards Germany after Steinmeier spent time during his three-day trip to the region in Israel, followed by two nights in Oman and just only three hours in the Gulf state. 

German president's unusually long wait on Qatar runway

In Germany, Doha's influence on the Israel-Hamas war is seen as somewhat controversial as Qatar is home to Hamas' political wing.  That led some to wonder if Wednesday’s apparent snub was a response to statements made recently by German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock prior to Al Thani’s long-planned visit to Berlin back in October.

"We do not accept support for terror," Baerbock told public broadcaster ZDF at the time. "To put an end to this terrorism," she added, "countries like Qatar have a special responsibility." 

Qatar: Adept but controversial broker in Israel-Hamas war

Qatar was said to have been angered by the comments. The country is also believed to have sent at least $1.5 billion (€1.36 billion) to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip to fund, in part, hospital and administrative staff salaries. Qatar has said the transfer of funds is done with Israel's permission. 

Steinmeier hopes for good news on hostages

Steinmeier was in Qatar to discuss efforts to release the remaining German hostages being held by the militant, Islamist Hamas with the Qatari leadership. 

"I am sure Qatar will do everything in its power to contribute to the release of the German hostages," he told reporters in Doha following talks with Al Thani.

Israel's President Isaac Herzog (center left) and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (center right) visit Kibbutz Beeri in southern Israel
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Kibbutz Be'eri, which was one of the communities targeted by Hamas militantsImage: Ronen Zvulun/AP Photo/picture alliance

"We have to understand that in such a difficult negotiation situation, there can be no guarantees," Steinmeier added.

The German president further stressed that he had asked Qatar's leadership to continue efforts to free all hostages. "I hope we can expect good news on this in the coming days," he said. 

Qatar: A key negotiator 

Qatar has already "used its influence here in the region and also on Hamas" to mediate a deal between the warring parties, Steinmeier added, referring to a brokered truce that has so far seen a six-day pause in fighting between Hamas and  Israel, as well as the swapping of hostages held in Gaza since the October 7 attacks for Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli jails.  

In total, 180 Palestinian prisoners have been released from Israeli jails, while Hamas has released more than 80 hostages, including 60 Israelis.  

The latest war in Gaza was triggered when roughly 240 hostages were captured and 1,200 people killed by Hamas in its October 7 attacks in southern Israel. Germany, the United States, Israel and several other nations as well as the European Union classify Hamas as a terrorist organization. 

Israel responded with massive airstrikes and a blockade of the Gaza Strip before its armed forces began a ground offensive at the end of October. Israeli military operations have killed over 14,800 people in the Gaza Strip, according to the enclave's Hamas-led Health Ministry.

Qatar was the last stop of Steinmeier’s whirlwind tour of the region, which included a visit to Israel, where he met with Israeli President Isaac Herzog and relatives of hostages abducted in the Gaza Strip, and a stop in Oman on Tuesday. 

Neither Qatar, Steinmeier nor German officials have commented on the unusual diplomatic delay at the airport. 

Edited by: Nina Haase

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