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Qatari, Saudi leaders have a phone call, sparks new disputes

Qatari, Saudi leaders have a phone call, sparks new disputes
Saudi Prince Mohamad Bin Salman has been appointed deputy crown prince but will retain his position as Defence Minister where he has played a key role in the offensive against Shiite rebels in neighbouring Yemen (AFP Photo/)

Riyadh/Doha: A phone call between Saudi and Qatari leaders in an attempt to solve their diplomatic crisis has sparked new disputes as Riyadh accused Doha of distorting facts and cut off communication.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received a phone call from Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani on Friday who requested a dialogue to end the three-month rift, reports Xinhua news agency.

During the phone call, the Qatari emir said he was willing to discuss the demands of four Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia for the best interests of related parties, the agency said.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) severed diplomatic ties with Qatar on June 5, and imposed a blockade on the oil-rich Gulf nation, saying Doha supported terrorism and extremism, interfered in their internal affairs and sought closer ties with Iran.

Qatar has strongly denied the charges.

The four countries listed 13 demands, including scaling down diplomatic ties with Iran and shutting down a Turkish military base in Qatar, to end the crisis.

However, Doha’s state-run Qatar News Agency said Sheikh Tamim welcomed the proposal of Prince Mohammed to send envoys to resolve the ongoing crisis in a way that does not affect the sovereignty of the states.

In response, the official Saudi Press Agency published a statement disputing Qatar’s remarks, saying the call was at Doha’s request and announced Saudi Arabia will cut off all communication until “the authority in Qatar issued a clear statement clarifying its position in public”.

Qatar has not yet commented on Saudi Arabia’s statement.

Sheikh Tamim held a phone call with US President Donald Trump later on Friday, insisting that the Gulf diplomatic crisis should be resolved through constructive dialogue that does not affect the sovereignty of the states, according to Qatar News Agency.

During the conversation, the two leaders discussed the latest development related to the Gulf crisis through Kuwait’s mediation.

– ‘Climbdown from brinkmanship’ –

Despite the deadlock, observers said the telephone call between the Qatari and Saudi rulers itself was a sign that tensions were dissipating.

“The fact that the telephone call took place and the offer of dialogue was made is significant in itself,” said Kristian Ulrichsen, a fellow at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University.

“(It) signals a climb down from the brinkmanship that has characterised so much of the Gulf standoff since June,” Ulrichsen told AFP.

But diplomatic efforts led by Kuwait, a key mediator in the crisis backed by Western powers, have so far failed to achieve a breakthrough.

In Washington on Thursday, Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah offered Trump an upbeat assessment of his efforts so far.

But in a statement early Friday, the Saudi-led bloc 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.

Riyadh and Doha are both key allies of the United States, which has sent mixed signals on its policy towards the nations.

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.

Some other US officials including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson adopted a more measured tone.

Qatar hosts a huge US 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 September 15, in what will be his first trip to a western capital since the crisis began.

With IANS/ AFP inputs