Qatar ruler phones Saudi crown prince to start Gulf crisis talks

Qatari and Saudi leaders have spoken on the phone to discuss the ongoing diplomatic crisis. But hopes for a breakthrough quickly fizzled as the two countries got into a spat over the details of the call.

Qatar's ruler called Saudi Arabia's crown prince to express an interest in starting talks to resolve a three-month dispute between Doha and neighboring Arab countries, state media in both countries reported early Saturday.

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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman "welcomed this desire," Saudi state news agency SPA said.

The report added that "details will be announced after Saudi Arabia reaches an agreement with UAE and Bahrain and Egypt," which are the other Arab countries that cut diplomatic ties with Qatar in June.

Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani (pictured above) "expressed his desire to sit at the dialogue table and discuss the demands of the four countries to ensure the interests of all," SPA reported.

Read more: What is the Qatar crisis?

Conflicting accounts

As quickly as hopes for a possible breakthrough in the crisis were raised, the relations between the two nations soured again with Saudi Arabia suddenly announcing that it was suspending dialogue with Qatar.

Saudi Arabia accused Qatar of "distorting facts" in its report on the call, although both nations reported that the call had taken place.

"The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia declares that any dialogue or communication with the authority in Qatar shall be suspended until a clear statement explaining its position is made in public and that its public statements are in conformity with its obligations," SPA reported after speaking with a Saudi foreign ministry official.

Qatar's state news agency QNA reported that the phone call was based on the coordination of US President Donald Trump.

The QNA report went on to say that Qatar's emir welcomed the Saudi prince's proposal during the call to "to assign two envoys to resolve controversial issues in a way that does not affect the sovereignty of the states."

Related Subjects

Read more: Qatar-Gulf crisis spreads to Africa

Qatar - Gulf Cooperation Council disputes over the years

Severed ties, broken trust

Sunni-led Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE and Egypt cut ties with Qatar on June 5, accusing it of backing extremism and fostering ties with their Shiite rival, Iran. Doha denies the claim. SA and its allies also imposed sanctions against Doha and presented Qatar with a list of demands. Kuwait has been trying to mediate, and several Western diplomats have toured the region to defuse the row.

Qatar - Gulf Cooperation Council disputes over the years

Instability haunts Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)

Back on March 5, 2014, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain suspended ties with Qatar over its support for the Muslim Brotherhood, a group that has been labelled a terrorist organization. Qatar was accused of breaching the 2013 GCC security agreement. Later in November that year, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain agreed to return their ambassadors to Doha after eight months of tension and frozen relations.

Qatar - Gulf Cooperation Council disputes over the years

Arab Spring and the GCC

The Arab Spring in 2011 did not lead to uprisings in GCC member states, apart from Bahrain, which crushed Shiite protests with Saudi military support. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have long been concerned Iran could cause unrest among their Shiite populations.

Qatar - Gulf Cooperation Council disputes over the years

Pipeline disputes

Relations between Saudi Arab and Qatar hit a low spot in 2006 after Riyadh withdrew its approval for Qatar’s plans to build a gas pipeline to Kuwait. In the same year, Saudi Arabia also protested against a planned pipeline for taking Qatari gas to the UAE and Oman. In 2005 there had also been Saudi protests against a plan to build a bridge linking Qatar to the UAE.

Qatar - Gulf Cooperation Council disputes over the years

Border clash

In 1992, three people were killed in a border clash between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Qatar claimed that Saudi Arabia had attacked the border post at Khafus. Saudi Arabia responded that the clash had taken place on Saudi territory.

Qatar - Gulf Cooperation Council disputes over the years

Border dispute

In 1965 an agreement was reached on where the border between Qatar and Saudi Arabia would lie. But the issue was not completely settled until decades later. After three years of wrangling, the two countries signed a border demarcation agreement in 1996. It took more than a decade after this for it to be fully implemented.

Qatar - Gulf Cooperation Council disputes over the years

Territorial disputes

In 1991, Doha took a border dispute with Bahrain over the Hawar Islands to the United Nations International Court of Justice. Armed confrontation between the two countries had been narrowly avoided in 1986 due to timely Saudi intervention. Later, the ICJ ruled in favor of Bahrain. Qatar was awarded the Janan Islands.

Trump to mediate

The phone call, the first publically reported contact between the two countries since the crisis broke out, came after US President Donald Trump offered on Thursday to mediate.

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US, Qatar sign agreement on fighting terrorism

The White House released a statement saying that Trump spoke separately with the Saudi crown prince, Qatar's emir and the United Arab Emirates' (UAE) Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan.

Trump reportedly urged that unity among Washington's Arab partners was key to promoting regional stability.

Read more: Erdogan travels to Gulf region to help mend rift between Qatar and its neighbors

"The president also emphasized 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," the statement said.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain cut off diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar on June 5, suspending shipping and air routes with a country that is the world's biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas as well as the home of the region's largest US military base.

The Saudi-led bloc accuses Qatar of supporting Islamists and regional foe Iran – charges which Qatar's leaders deny – and has issued a list of 13 demands. The list includes shutting Doha-based broadcaster Al-Jazeera and reducing Qatar's diplomatic ties with Iran.

rs/sms (AFP, Reuters)