Saudi Arabia said on Saturday that talks with Qatar have been suspended and accused Doha of issuing "false reports", just after the Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani called Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in a bid to initiate dialogue to resolve the GCC stalemate.
The Emir of Qatar called Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince on Friday to “express his desire to sit at the dialogue table to discuss the demands of the four countries to ensure the interests of all,” reported Saudi Arabia’s state news agency.
The move, which has the potential to break a stalemate between Qatar and its neighbours, comes on day 95 of the crisis, which has seen Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut all diplomatic and transport ties with Qatar over allegations it is supporting terrorist groups. Doha denies the allegations.
The Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said that the Crown Prince “welcomed the desire of Sheikh Tamim” and will “announce the details after concluding [deliberations] with the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt”.
The move comes after Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, who has been leading mediation efforts to resolve the rift, met with US president Donald Trump in Washington on Thursday. Their meeting was followed by a phone call between Mr Trump and the Qatari Emir.
Also, on Saturday, SPA reported that Mr Trump called Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince to “discuss the friendly relations between the two countries and the latest regional and international developments”.
The White House confirmed on Saturday that Mr Trump spoke separately with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and UAE’s Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, and Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad.
“The president underscored that unity among the United States’ Arab partners is essential to promoting regional stability and countering the threat of Iran,” said a White House statement. “The president also emphasised that all countries must follow through on commitments from the Riyadh Summit to defeat terrorism, cut off funding for terrorist groups, and combat extremist ideology.”
Salman Shaikh, a Gulf expert and founder of The Shaikh Group — a political consultancy firm focused on the MENA region, told The National that the latest developments are "a real achievement for Mr Trump's personal efforts, especially if his interventions initiate serious talks between Saudi Arabia and Qatar".
He said that while Mr Trump “should have intervened earlier”, the news is well-received, and there is “a sense of optimism”.
Following the Qatari Emir’s call, UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs tweeted a message of optimism. Dr Anwar Gargash said: “When the issue is in the hands of Prince Mohammed bin Salman, it’s good news.”
The sense of optimism, however, was quickly subdued by a SPA report quoting a Saudi foreign ministry source as saying talks with Qatar “shall be suspended until a clear statement explaining its position is made public and that its public statements are in conformity with its obligations”.
The ministry statement came after “false reports” by the Qatar News Agency (QNA), reported SPA. The issue appears to be a dispute over protocol — specifically over how QNA failed to mention that it was Doha that had initiated the call on Friday.
Mr Shaikh conceded that the path for negotiations will not be smooth and “this will require Mr Trump's sustained personal engagement”.
“Tendency for negative messages is still possible,” he added.