Saudi Arabia suspends talks with Qatar after phone call between leaders
Saudi Arabia on Saturday suspended any dialogue with Qatar, accusing it of “distorting facts” soon after a phone call between the rulers of both countries offered hope of a breakthrough in the three-month-old Gulf crisis.
Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, spoke to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to express interest in talks, state media from both sides said, in the first public engagement between the leaders after the US president offered to mediate in the crisis.
Saudi Arabia led the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain in cutting ties with Qatar in June, accusing it of bankrolling extremist groups and of being too close to regional rival Iran.
They also shut down air, maritime and land links and imposed economic sanctions on Qatar.
The gas-rich emirate denied the claims and accused the four countries of attacking its sovereignty.
The crown prince “welcomed this desire,” the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) initially reported, adding “details will be announced after Saudi Arabia reaches an agreement with UAE and Bahrain and Egypt”.
But the prospect of a thaw quickly died down after SPA subsequently accused Qatar’s state media of wrongly implying that Saudi Arabia had initiated the outreach.
“The contact was at the request of Qatar and its request for dialogue,” SPA said, citing a Saudi foreign ministry official.
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia declares that any dialogue with Qatar shall be suspended until a clear statement explaining its position is made in public.”
Denying QNA report
The phone call was the first publicly reported contact between the two leaders since the start of the crisis.
Qatar’s state news agency QNA said that the phone call was based on coordination of US President Donald Trump who had earlier talked with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE.
“The President underscored that unity among the United States’ Arab partners is essential to promoting regional stability and countering the threat of Iran,” the White House said.
Both Qatar’s Emir and the Saudi Crown Prince “stressed the need to resolve the crisis by sitting down to the dialogue table to ensure the unity and stability of the GCC countries,” QNA reported.
Sheikh Tamim welcomed the proposal of Prince Mohammed during the call “to assign two envoys to resolve controversial issues in a way that does not affect the sovereignty of the states,” QNA said.
Saudi Arabia later issued a second statement citing an unnamed official at the ministry of the foreign affairs denying the QNA report.
“What was published on the Qatar News Agency is a continuation of the distortion of the Qatari authority of the facts,” SPA reported citing the Saudi official.
Unproductive Kuwait efforts
Diplomatic efforts led by Kuwait, a key mediator in the crisis backed by Western powers, have so far failed to achieve a breakthrough.
In a statement early on Friday, the Saudi-led bloc showed no signs of backing down as it questioned the Kuwaiti emir’s statement that Qatar would be willing to accept their 13 demands.
The demands include shutting Doha-based broadcaster Al-Jazeera, closing a Turkish military base in the emirate and downgrading Qatari diplomatic ties with Iran.
The bloc also voiced “regret” about the Kuwaiti ruler’s statement “on the success of mediation in stopping military intervention”.
Instead, the four Arab states stressed that “the military option has not been and will not be considered” under any circumstances.
Meanwhile, Qatar’s emir Sheikh Tamim is set to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel for talks on September 15, in what will be his first trip to a western capital since the crisis began.