Talks between Riyadh, Doha to end Gulf crisis lead to fresh spat

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed (top) and Qatari ruler Sheikh Tamim spoke on Friday.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed (left) and Qatari ruler Sheikh Tamim (right) spoke on Friday.

Latest dispute involves details of a phone call between Qatari ruler and Saudi Crown Prince

DUBAI • Saudi and Qatari leaders have held direct talks for the first time since the start of the Gulf crisis three months ago, but the breakthrough was later undermined by a dispute over the details of the phone call.

On Friday, Qatari ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani called Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, according to both countries' official news services.

Sheikh Tamim "expressed his desire" to start a dialogue to discuss the demands of the four countries boycotting Qatar, the state-run Saudi Press Agency said.

The crown prince "welcomed this desire", the Saudi Press Agency report said. It added that "details will be announced after Saudi Arabia reaches an agreement with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain and Egypt". Sheikh Tamim welcomed Prince Mohammed's proposal during the call "to assign two envoys to resolve controversial issues in a way that does not affect the sovereignty of the states", Qatar's state news agency QNA said.

But shortly after the statement, Riyadh dismissed Doha's claim that the call was organised at the request of United States President Donald Trump, and said it will not hold further talks before a clarification is issued. "The call was at the request of Qatar to discuss its desire to talk to the four countries about their demands," the Saudi Press Agency said.

The fresh dispute underscores the depth of the crisis that broke out in June when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic and transport links with Qatar - an unprecedented move in the history of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council.

The Saudi-led bloc accuses Qatar of backing terrorist groups, and it has presented Sheikh Tamim with 13 demands that include shutting down the Al-Jazeera TV channel and scaling back ties with Iran.

Qatar denies the charges and says the boycott is an attempt to undermine its sovereignty.

Friday's phone call took place after a separate conversation between Sheikh Tamim and Mr Trump.

The US President also called Saudi Arabia's Prince Mohammed, the Saudi Press Agency said, but it was not clear whether he made that call before or after the dispute broke out.

Mr Trump has stepped up his efforts to resolve the crisis, which pits close US allies against each other.

Speaking at a White House news conference with the Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah last Thursday, he said: "I do believe we will solve it .

"If we don't solve it, I will be a mediator right here in the White House... We will have something very quickly".

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 10, 2017, with the headline 'Talks between Riyadh, Doha to end Gulf crisis lead to fresh spat'. Print Edition | Subscribe