S Arabia accuses Qatar of ‘distorting facts’, ends talks

09 Sep 2017


Saudi Arabia today suspended dialogue with Qatar, accusing it of ''distorting facts'', soon after a phone call between the rulers of both countries offered hope of a breakthrough in the three-month-old Gulf crisis.

The Saudi Press Agency (SPA) made the announcement an hour after reporting a phone call between leaders of the two countries in an effort to resolve the dispute between Qatar and the quartet of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

Qatar's emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, spoke to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to express interest in talks, state media from both sides said, in the first public dialogue between the leaders after the United States president offered to mediate in the crisis.

The four countries severed diplomatic relations with Qatar in June, accusing it of supporting extremist groups and of being too close to Iran. They also shut down air, maritime and land links and imposed economic sanctions on Qatar.

In an earlier report Saturday, the SPA said Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received a call on Friday from Qatar's emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, who it said had expressed his desire to start a dialogue with the quartet and discuss their demands.

Crown Prince Mohammed welcomed Sheikh Tamim's desire to begin a dialogue and that a decision would soon be announced after Saudi Arabia ''concludes an understanding'' with its three partners, the SPA report said. The phone call was the first publicly reported contact between the two leaders since the start of the crisis.

The call came a day after US President Donald Trump said he would be willing to step in and mediate the worst dispute in decades among the US-allied Arab states and Qatar, and said he thinks a deal could come quickly.

In a joint press conference with Trump in Washington, Kuwaiti Emir Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah hinted at a potential resolution to the lingering crisis when he said that Doha has agreed to sit at the negotiation table and discuss the list of 13 demands of the Anti-Terror Quartet (ATQ).

After reporting the phone call between Crown Prince Mohammed and Sheikh Tamim, another SPA report said that Saudi Arabia was suspending the dialogue, quoting a Saudi official at the Foreign Ministry as saying Qatar's state news agency QNA published a report that ''did not have any relevance to truth.''

The prospect of a thaw quickly died down after SPA subsequently accused Qatar's state media of wrongly implying that Saudi Arabia had initiated the outreach.

"What was published by Qatar News Agency is continuation of Qatari authority's distortion of facts," SPA said, adding that any dialogue was now suspended.

When he offered to mediate, Trump said he believed the dispute could be solved "fairly easily".

In Washington on Thursday, Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, a key figure involved in mediation attempts, met Trump and gave an upbeat assessment of his efforts so far.

But in a statement early on Friday, the Saudi-led bloc had showed no signs of backing down as it questioned the Kuwaiti emir's statement that Qatar would be willing to accept their 13 demands.

The demands include shutting Doha-based broadcaster Al-Jazeera, closing a Turkish military base in the emirate and downgrading Qatari diplomatic ties with Iran.

The bloc also voiced "regret" about the Kuwaiti ruler's statement "on the success of mediation in stopping military intervention".

Instead, the four Arab states stressed that "the military option has not been and will not be considered" under any circumstances.

Kuwait has emerged as a key mediator in the crisis, while the United States has given mixed signals on its policy. Riyadh and Doha are both key allies of the United States.

Trump, who chose Saudi Arabia for his first overseas visit as president in May, two weeks before the crisis erupted, immediately expressed staunch support for Saudi Arabia. But some other United States officials including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have adopted a more measured tone.

Tillerson and Sheikh Mohammed announced in July they had signed an agreement to fight terrorism, built on decisions made at a Riyadh summit in May to "wipe terrorism from the face of the earth".

Qatar hosts a huge American air base, home to the headquarters of Centcom - the regional command which leads operations against the Islamic State jihadist group.

Sheikh Tamim is set to meet German chancellor Angela Merkel for talks on 15 September, in what will be his first trip to a western capital since the crisis began.

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