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 Islamist extremist groups and of being too close to regional rival Iran. Doha denies the accusations.
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.
“Qatar is not serious in dialogue and continues its previous policies. 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.”
The development came after US President Donald Trump on Friday spoke separately 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.
“The President also emphasised that all countries must follow through on commitments… to defeat terrorism, cut off funding for terrorist groups, and combat extremist ideology.”
When he offered to mediate, Trump said he believed the dispute could be solved “fairly easily”.
– ‘Climbdown from brinkmanship’ –
Despite the deadlock, observers said the telephone call between the Qatari and Saudi rulers itself was a sign that tensions were dissipating.
“The fact that the telephone call took place and the offer of dialogue was made is significant in itself,” said Kristian Ulrichsen, a fellow at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University.
“(It) signals a climb down from the brinkmanship that has characterised so much of the Gulf standoff since June,” Ulrichsen told AFP.
But diplomatic efforts led by Kuwait, a key mediator in the crisis backed by Western powers, have so far failed to achieve a breakthrough.