With Trump’s Help, Qatar Starts Dialogue With Saudi Arabia

Mohammed bin Salman Saudi Prince
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Photo: Reuters

President Donald J. Trump mediated between Saudi Arabia and Qatar to kick off a dialogue between the Arab states, the first significant breakthrough and a sign that the neighbors could finally restore severely strained ties.

Underscoring the difficulty of sustaining talks was a statement Saudi Arabia issued early on Friday, accusing Qatar of “distorting facts” and announcing that it is suspending the talks.

Riyadh’s anger came after Qatar’s semi-official news agency said officials agreed during a phone talk to assign two envoys to resolve controversial issues “in a way that does not affect the sovereignty of the states.”

The phone conversation between Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani was the first tangible sign that the 75-day friction could be over soon.

On June 5, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain cut diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar, imposing a crippling blockade on the tiny Gulf state. The Arab states demanded Qatar stop funding terrorism, supporting Islamists in the region and cooperating with Iran. Qatar is the largest exporter of natural gas and hosts the biggest U.S. military base in the region.

Qatar repeatedly refused to meet the demands of the Arab states, mostly because its vast wealth depends on gas reserves shared with Iran. Turkey and Iran were two main backers of Qatar. Ankara’s diplomacy failed to end the blockade over Qatar.

Saudi news agency said after the phone call that Qatar’s emir was willing to sit at the dialogue table and discuss the demands to “ensure the interests of all.” The news agency said the details would be announced later after Saudi Arabia talks to other three Arab nations.

The phone call was possible after Mr. Trump spoke to the Qatari emir on Thursday to coordinate the dialogue, hours after he hosted Kuwaiti emir at the White House. Mr. Trump said he was open to mediate between the two nations to end the blockade, highlighting that united Gulf Cooperation Council could be more effective in defeating terrorism.

The irony of Mr. Trump’s mediation efforts was on display since the blockade was imposed after the U.S. president’s blessing. Mr. Trump even took credit for his role in the Qatar crisis, saying that Qatar was under fire because he called on Arab nations to defeat terrorism.