Diplomatic efforts intensify to resolve Gulf dispute

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (far left), UAE's Vice-President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, receiving Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, the Emir of Kuwait, in Dubai on Wednesday. The Kuwaiti Emir is mediating in the crisis between Qatar
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (far left), UAE's Vice-President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, receiving Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, the Emir of Kuwait, in Dubai on Wednesday. The Kuwaiti Emir is mediating in the crisis between Qatar and other Arab countries.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Trump offers to mediate as Gulf states squeeze Qatar further

DUBAI • Efforts to resolve a diplomatic dispute pitting Saudi Arabia and its allies against Qatar intensified yesterday, after Washington offered to mediate the biggest crisis to grip the Gulf in years.

As Kuwait's Emir shuttled between Gulf capitals for talks, US President Donald Trump offered to host a White House meeting if necessary, in a change of heart from his initial support for the Saudi-led boycott.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain lead a string of countries that this week cut ties with Qatar over what they say is the emirate's financing of extremist groups and its ties to Iran, Saudi Arabia's regional arch-rival.

Qatar strongly denies the allegations and has expressed a willingness to engage in talks.

The Arab countries closed air, sea and land links with Qatar, barred the emirate's planes from their airspace and ordered Qatari citizens out within 14 days.

In a measure that cemented earlier UAE restrictions on air transport, the country's General Civil Aviation Authority said yesterday it had closed the air space for all air traffic to and from Doha until further notice. The UAE also cut postal ties with Qatar.

Normally guarded about politics, Qataris have expressed outrage.

"It is a blockade! Like that of Berlin. A declaration of war. A political, economic and social aggression," a Qatari diplomat said.

With food and other supplies disrupted and worries mounting about deepening economic turbulence, banks and firms in Gulf Arab states are seeking to keep business links to Qatar open and avoid a costly fire sale of assets.

The feud has raised fears of wider instability in an already-volatile region that is a crucial global energy supplier and home to several Western military bases.

Officials from Qatar and its Gulf Arab neighbours embarked on a quickening round of shuttle diplomacy, with the Qatari foreign minister due in Moscow and Brussels and Bahrain's King visiting his ally Egypt for talks on the crisis.

Kuwait - which unlike most of its fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members has not cut off ties with Qatar - has been leading efforts to mediate.

Its Emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, held talks on Wednesday with Qatari counterpart Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, following talks with senior UAE officials and Saudi King Salman.

Doha has for years forged its own alliances in the region, often diverging from the GCC and taking in leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Palestinian Hamas and members of the Afghan Taleban.

A senior Emirati official told AFP that this week's decision was not aimed at a change of regime in Qatar but to pressure the country to reshape its policy.

"This is a foreign policy gone wild," state minister for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash told AFP.

Saudi Arabia's al Watan newspaper published what it said was a list of eight "extremist organisations" seen as working to destabilise the region from Qatar.

Qatar has backed Islamist movements but vehemently denies supporting terrorism. It provides a haven to anti-Western groups such as the Taleban and Algeria's Islamic Salvation Front. Qatar says it does not accept its neighbours' view that any group with an Islamist background is terrorist. Qatar's Emir has said such a view is a big mistake.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 09, 2017, with the headline 'Diplomatic efforts intensify to resolve Gulf dispute'. Print Edition | Subscribe