Talks to end Qatar blockade stalled in January, Qatar says

Talks to end Qatar blockade stalled in January, Qatar says
Qatar's Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said talks with Saudi Arabia and the UAE to end the nearly three year blockade have stalled.
4 min read
16 February, 2020
The remarks were made by Qatar's FM [Getty]
Talks between Doha and Riyadh to resolve a two-year-old regional spat have stalled since January, Qatar's foreign minister has said, with diplomats and analysts suggesting the situation has hit a stalemate.

Saudi Arabia, along with its allies the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, cut all diplomatic, trade and transport ties with Qatar in June 2017.

The four governments accused Doha of backing radical Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood, and seeking closer ties with Saudi arch-rival Tehran - allegations Qatar vehemently denies.

"We have always been very open for dialogue, since the start of the Gulf Cooperation Council (regional bloc) crisis," Qatar's Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday.

"It's been almost three years since the crisis started. We are not the perpetrators of that crisis and we've been very open and clear that we are open to any genuine intention to resolve this problem.

"We demonstrated this when there was an opening last year in November. Unfortunately these efforts didn't succeed and have been suspended at the beginning of January."

Two diplomats in Doha said they did not see any indications that the nascent talks could be resumed for the foreseeable future following a flurry of engagement at the end of 2019.

The pan-Arab Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper quoted a Gulf diplomat on Wednesday who suggested Riyadh pulled out of the talks because the Qatari negotiators "did not seem serious in reaching compromise".

The unnamed diplomat accused Doha's team of "prevaricating to prolong the negotiations" and added that Riyadh wanted a solution that included all of the boycotting countries.

Abdulrahman said that while Qatar was not responsible for the suspension, Doha remained open to further dialogue.

"We are trying to address the substance, to understand the root causes, and not to deal with whatever is said in the media or mentioned by non-officials," he said.

"We want to be forward-looking... so that it's not repeated again."

King's College London assistant professor Andreas Krieg said the Saudis were "unhappy" that the Qataris demanded "some sign of goodwill" before engaging in reconciliation efforts.

"They already came to an agreement (on) overflight rights. The Saudis wanted to go ahead, but then Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman changed his mind while in a majlis (formal gathering) in Abu Dhabi," he told AFP.

"It runs very deep. The UAE have not taken a tiny step away from crisis mode. They can sustain this indefinitely."

Krieg said the UAE's motivation to boycott Qatar was Doha's perceived closeness to the Muslim Brotherhood, while for Saudi the priority was to address Qatar's alleged closeness to Iran.

Earlier this month, the United Arab Emirates launched postal services to Qatar nearly three years after Abu Dhabi led efforts to see regional states cut ties with Doha, Reuters reported.

The move came after a meeting between Qatar and four boycotting parties held by the United Nations' Universal Postal Union late last month.

Indirect services resumed with mail transported to Qatar via Oman - one of the main Gulf gateways to Qatar since the beginning of the blockade in 2017 - according to a notice from state-run Emirates Post sent to other postal firms.

The UAE government has yet to comment on the resumption of postal services and it was not immediately clear why services had resumed despite the continuing blockade.

A Universal Postal Union spokesman told Reuters that the decision came after a January 29 meeting between Doha and the boycotting parties in Switzerland.

"UPU finds it very positive that there was an agreement to discuss these issues and the discussions were a positive development and a step in the right direction," he said.

Post still cannot be sent from Saudi Arabia or Egypt to Qatar, according to customer service lines run by those countries. Bahrain Post did not respond to a request for comment by Reuters.

The move came amid signs of hope to resolve the crisis in recent months, though Saturday's comments by the Qatari foreign minister suggest the reconciliatory tone by the blockading nations has come to an end.

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