Talks between Doha and Riyadh to resolve a two-year regional spat have stalled, Qatar’s foreign minister said, after a flurry of diplomacy late last year raised hopes the damaging rift was being healed.
Saudi Arabia, along with its allies the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, cut all diplomatic, trade and transport ties with Qatar in June 2017.
The four governments accused Doha of backing radical Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood, and seeking closer ties with Saudi arch-rival Tehran — allegations Qatar vehemently denies.
‘We have always been very open for dialogue, since the start of the Gulf Cooperation Council (regional bloc) crisis,’ Qatar’s foreign minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday.
‘It’s been almost three years since the crisis started. We are not the perpetrators of that crisis and we’ve been very open and clear that we are open to any genuine intention to resolve this problem.
‘We demonstrated this when there was an opening last year in November. Unfortunately these efforts didn’t succeed and have been suspended at the beginning of January.’
Two Doha-based diplomats said they did not see any indications that the nascent talks could be resumed for the foreseeable future following a burst of engagement at the end of 2019.
Neither side appeared willing to compromise enough for the talks to be viable, one said.
Hopes of a breakthrough were raised when Saudi, along with Bahrain and the UAE, agreed to participate in the Arabian Gulf Cup football tournament in Qatar in December having initially boycotted it.
Saudi King Salman then invited Qatar’s ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani to a GCC summit in Riyadh in December, but Qatar ultimately rebuffed Riyadh and instead sent then-prime minister Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al-Thani.
Qatari officials nonetheless suggested that the summit and shuttle diplomacy that began in November had broken a ‘stalemate’.
The rift has seen the two sides trade barbs on everything from access to the Muslim holy city of Makkah to alleged Twitter hacking.
It has also seen families divided, while Qatari businesses face increased costs, including projects linked to the 2022 World Cup, as well as complicating regional travel.
The Saudi-led bloc originally made 13 key demands to resolve the dispute, including Qatar shutting down broadcaster Al Jazeera, downgrading ties with Iran and closing a Turkish military base on its territory.
The pan-Arab Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper on Wednesday quoted a Gulf diplomat who suggested Riyadh pulled out of the talks because the Qatari negotiators ‘did not seem serious in reaching compromise’.
The unnamed diplomat accused Doha’s team of ‘prevaricating to prolong the negotiations’ and said that Riyadh wanted a solution that included all of the boycotting countries.
Abdulrahman said that while Qatar was not responsible for the suspension, Doha remained open to further dialogue.
‘We are trying to address the substance, to understand the root causes, and not to deal with whatever is said in the media or mentioned by non-officials,’ he said.
‘We want to be forward-looking... so that it’s not repeated again.’
King’s College London assistant professor Andreas Krieg said the Saudis were ‘unhappy’ that the Qataris demanded ‘some sign of goodwill’ before engaging in reconciliation efforts.
‘They already came to an agreement (on) overflight rights. The Saudis wanted to go ahead, but then Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman changed his mind while in a majlis (formal gathering) in Abu Dhabi,’ he said.
Krieg said the UAE’s motivation to boycott Qatar was Doha’s perceived closeness to the Muslim Brotherhood, while for Saudi the priority was to address Qatar’s alleged closeness to Iran.
Experts had said that Saudi was keen to heal rifts among the wealthy Arab Gulf monarchies to help contain what it perceived as a mounting threat posed by Iran.
Washington and its allies blamed Iran for last year’s attack on key Saudi oil installations as well as a string of assaults on oil tankers in the Gulf. Tehran denies the accusations.
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