Photo
The crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, left, and the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. They spoke by phone on Friday.

Credit Fayez Nureldine/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

CAIRO — An attempt by President Trump to break the stalemate that has divided the wealthiest countries in the Middle East ended in failure on Saturday, when leaders from Qatar and Saudi Arabia, after speaking by phone for the first time in months, exchanged dueling, contradictory statements.

Mr. Trump arranged the call, which took place late on Friday, and promised a breakthrough in the bitter dispute that has plunged the Persian Gulf into turmoil and has threatened American security interests.

Since June, Saudi Arabia has led the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain in imposing a punishing trade and transport boycott against tiny, gas-rich Qatar, accusing it of financing terrorism and having overly cozy relations with Iran. Qatar has rejected the charges, countering that its rivals are seeking to curb its sovereignty and tame its influential television channel Al Jazeera.

Mr. Trump stepped into the frame this past week, offering his services as a mediator and predicting a quick victory.

“I think you’d have a deal worked out very quickly,” he said at the White House on Thursday, standing alongside the emir of Kuwait, who has led Arab efforts to end the standoff.

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But Friday’s phone call between the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, and the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, seemed to underscore only how hard it might be to settle the angry, often petty, dispute.

Within hours of the call, Qatar’s state news agency issued a statement that said the emir “welcomed a proposal” by the young Saudi prince to appoint two peace envoys to help bridge their differences.

That language infuriated the Saudis, who appeared insulted by the suggestion that they had bowed first in the dispute. The Saudi state news service retorted with its own report, citing unnamed officials, that accused Qatar of distorting the facts and declared that dialogue between the two countries had been suspended.

Photo
President Trump with the emir of Kuwait, Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, during a news conference at the White House on Thursday. Credit Al Drago for The New York Times

In the Saudi telling, it was the Qataris who first broached the idea of peace mediators.

The exchange encapsulated the vehemence of a dispute that has worried Western countries allied with both sides. Through the summer, a series of envoys, including the United States secretary of state, Rex W. Tillerson, have traveled to the Persian Gulf for talks. Qatar and its foes have exchanged jabs through news and social media, in fake news stories and leaked emails, and on the streets of Western capitals.

An influence race has erupted in Washington, where both sides have spent huge sums on lobbyists and advertising in a bid to influence political and public opinion. On Saturday, official Saudi outlets tweeted an apparently fake Islamic State statement expressing support for Qatar.

While some analysts said that Friday’s call, even if unsuccessful, held out hope that the two sides were finally ready to talk, others viewed it as a sign of how entrenched they have become.

“The problem is as much about appearing to not capitulate to the other side as it is trying to solve any problems,” said Michael Stephens of the Royal United Services Institute in London.

“Given the hypersensitivity of both sides to appearing weak,” he said, “it makes the problem considerably harder to solve.”

Mr. Trump’s hand may be weakened by his own insistence on taking sides. After initially supporting the Saudis, he appeared to take a more balanced approach at the urging of Mr. Tillerson, who knows leaders on both sides from his previous career as an oil executive.

Qatar is home to the largest American air base in the Middle East and is the center of military operations against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

But at the White House on Thursday, Mr. Trump appeared to take a new jab at Qatar when he complained of the “massive funding of terrorism by certain countries.”

He added, “If they don’t stop the funding of terrorism, I don’t want them to come together.”

Mr. Trump was standing alongside the emir of Kuwait, Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, who has led Arab efforts to solve the crisis and quickly reached for a more conciliatory note.

“Now is the time that we have to forget all these differences,” the emir said.

Continue reading the main story

CAIRO — An attempt by President Trump to break the stalemate that has divided the wealthiest countries in the Middle East ended in failure on Saturday, when leaders from Qatar and Saudi Arabia, after speaking by phone for the first time in months, exchanged dueling, contradictory statements.

Mr. Trump arranged the call, which took place late on Friday, and promised a breakthrough in the bitter dispute that has plunged the Persian Gulf into turmoil and has threatened American security interests.

Since June, Saudi Arabia has led the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain in imposing a punishing trade and transport boycott against tiny, gas-rich Qatar, accusing it of financing terrorism and having overly cozy relations with Iran. Qatar has rejected the charges, countering that its rivals are seeking to curb its sovereignty and tame its influential television channel Al Jazeera.

Mr. Trump stepped into the frame this past week, offering his services as a mediator and predicting a quick victory.

“I think you’d have a deal worked out very quickly,” he said at the White House on Thursday, standing alongside the emir of Kuwait, who has led Arab efforts to end the standoff.

But Friday’s phone call between the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, and the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, seemed to underscore only how hard it might be to settle the angry, often petty, dispute.

Within hours of the call, Qatar’s state news agency issued a statement that said the emir “welcomed a proposal” by the young Saudi prince to appoint two peace envoys to help bridge their differences.

That language infuriated the Saudis, who appeared insulted by the suggestion that they had bowed first in the dispute. The Saudi state news service retorted with its own report, citing unnamed officials, that accused Qatar of distorting the facts and declared that dialogue between the two countries had been suspended.

In the Saudi telling, it was the Qataris who first broached the idea of peace mediators.

The exchange encapsulated the vehemence of a dispute that has worried Western countries allied with both sides. Through the summer, a series of envoys, including the United States secretary of state, Rex W. Tillerson, have traveled to the Persian Gulf for talks. Qatar and its foes have exchanged jabs through news and social media, in fake news stories and leaked emails, and on the streets of Western capitals.

An influence race has erupted in Washington, where both sides have spent huge sums on lobbyists and advertising in a bid to influence political and public opinion. On Saturday, official Saudi outlets tweeted an apparently fake Islamic State statement expressing support for Qatar.

While some analysts said that Friday’s call, even if unsuccessful, held out hope that the two sides were finally ready to talk, others viewed it as a sign of how entrenched they have become.

“The problem is as much about appearing to not capitulate to the other side as it is trying to solve any problems,” said Michael Stephens of the Royal United Services Institute in London.

“Given the hypersensitivity of both sides to appearing weak,” he said, “it makes the problem considerably harder to solve.”

Mr. Trump’s hand may be weakened by his own insistence on taking sides. After initially supporting the Saudis, he appeared to take a more balanced approach at the urging of Mr. Tillerson, who knows leaders on both sides from his previous career as an oil executive.

Qatar is home to the largest American air base in the Middle East and is the center of military operations against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

But at the White House on Thursday, Mr. Trump appeared to take a new jab at Qatar when he complained of the “massive funding of terrorism by certain countries.”

He added, “If they don’t stop the funding of terrorism, I don’t want them to come together.”

Mr. Trump was standing alongside the emir of Kuwait, Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, who has led Arab efforts to solve the crisis and quickly reached for a more conciliatory note.

“Now is the time that we have to forget all these differences,” the emir said.

Nytimes

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