Middle East

Qatar foreign minister: Talks with Riyadh break stalemate

Qatar's Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani speaks during the annual Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany February 17, 2019. REUTERS/Andreas Gebert

RIYADH/DOHA: Qatar’s Foreign Minister said recent talks have broken a protracted stalemate with Saudi Arabia and that Doha would study 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 both 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 Mohammad bin Abdul-Rahman al-Thani told CNN 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 Mohammad, who visited Riyadh in October, 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 Mohammad 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.”

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

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

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 17, 2019, on page 5.

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