Middle East

Qatar FM says early talks with Saudi Arabia have broken stalemate

RIYADH/DOHA (Reuters) — Qatar’s foreign minister said recent talks have broken a protracted stalemate with Saudi Arabia and that Doha would studying demands by its Gulf rivals but not turn its back on ally Turkey.

The 2-1/2-year row between U.S.-allied Arab states saw Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic and trade links with Qatar over claims it backs terrorism. Doha denies the charge and says the embargo undermines its sovereignty.

“We have broken the stalemate of non-communication to starting a communication with the Saudis,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told CNN on Sunday.

“We want to understand the grievances. We want to study them and to assess them and to look at the solutions that can safeguard us in the future from any other potential crisis,” he said without mentioning any possible concessions.

The boycotting nations set 13 demands, including closing Al Jazeera television, shuttering a Turkish base, downgrading ties with Iran and cutting links to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Sheikh Mohammed, who visited Riyadh in October amid hints of a thaw, denied Qatar has direct ties with the Brotherhood, which the other countries call a terrorist organization.

He also said Doha would not alter relations with Ankara in order to resolve the dispute.

“Any country that opened up for us and helped us during our crisis, we will remain grateful for them … and we will never turn our back to them,” he said.

Turkey initially sent troops, military hardware, food and water to small but wealthy Qatar.

Saudi officials say their demands are unaltered, but two sources familiar with the talks said Riyadh no longer expects Doha will cut ties with Turkey or close Al Jazeera, which Arab rulers accuse Qatar of using as a mouthpiece to attack them.

One of those sources and two diplomats in the region said Doha wants Saudi Arabia to restore overflight access and reopen Qatar’s only land border.

Asked how long resolution would take, Sheikh Mohammed said: “We believe we are still at a very early stage, and what happened in the last 2-1/2 years was a lot and there is, I think, a need for some time to rebuild trust again.”

A Western diplomat in Doha said recent contacts show “light at the end of the tunnel” but “the smallest disturbance might destroy (them)”.

Riyadh appears more open than some of its allies, which have pushed back against reconciliation.

Qatar’s premier attended a Gulf Arab summit in Riyadh last week, its highest representation since 2017.

Efforts to end the row intensified after a September attack on Saudi oil plants, which Riyadh and Washington blame on Iran. Tehran denies involvement.

Reporting by Stephen Kalin, Alexander Cornwell, and Dmitry Zhdannikov; additional reporting by Dmitry Zhdannikov in Doha; Writing by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Giles Elgood

Image: Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani speaks during a joint press conference in the capital Doha on March 4, 2019 (Photo by KARIM JAAFAR / AFP)

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