Diplomatic flurry to heal rift in Middle East

Kuwait takes the lead in mediating row as Trump endorses Saudi-led isolation of Qatar

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Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with Qatar on Monday, accusing it of supporting terrorism and backing Iran. VIDEO: REUTERS

DUBAI • Middle East envoys scrambled yesterday to mediate a diplomatic rupture between Qatar and a powerful Arab bloc led by Saudi Arabia, which threatened to hit air travel worldwide and oil prices.

Kuwait took the lead in trying to broker dialogue, with the country's emir Sabah Ahmed al-Sabah headed to Saudi Arabia for talks with King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud.

In response to Kuwait's urging, Qatari ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani postponed a speech about the crisis to await the result of the mediation, its Foreign Minister told Al Jazeera.

The effort to cool tensions came after Qatar's Gulf neighbours - Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain - were joined by Egypt and smaller nations on Monday in cutting ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism across the region.

The eruption of the long-simmering disputes shocked the region and has threatened the deeply intertwined regional trade links and air routes.

Oil prices fell further below US$50 a barrel yesterday on concerns that the diplomatic crisis could undermine efforts by Opec to tighten the market.

Saudi Arabia yesterday revoked the licences of Qatar Airways, a major international carrier, and ordered its offices to be closed within 48 hours, a day after banning all Qatari planes from landing at its airports.

Analysts estimated that the fallout from cancelled flights or longer flight times from changed routes would cost the carrier millions of dollars in lost revenue and leave tens of thousands of passengers in a fix.

For now, Bahrain was allowing Qatar Airways to fly through its airspace on a single air route.

United States President Donald Trump, who visited Saudi Arabia last month, posted Twitter messages endorsing the Saudi-led isolation of Qatar as an important step to squeeze suspected militant funding networks.

He said "all reference pointed to Qatar" being a financial pathway for extremists. But his stance could also complicate mediation efforts. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has offered to try to heal the rift.

Small but influential Qatar has long been at odds with some of its regional partners over support of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is seen by Saudi Arabia and other nations as a threat to the network of ruling monarchs and others across the region.

It has also used its energy wealth to become a key patron of groups such as Hamas in the Gaza Strip and, in the mid-1990s, to launch the Al Jazeera network, which has a wide reach throughout the Arab- speaking world.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, meanwhile, spoke with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar about resolving the dispute. Turkey enjoys good relations with the parties in the conflict.

France yesterday also called for the diplomatic row to be resolved through dialogue, said its Foreign Ministry.



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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 07, 2017, with the headline Diplomatic flurry to heal rift in Middle East. Subscribe