Qatar Crisis: Are There Signs of a Potential Deal?

The Saudi-led alliance has reduced the number of demands it wants Doha to accept.  

Naseem Zeitoon / Reuters

The Saudi-led alliance of Arab countries that severed links with Qatar is now urging Doha to accept six steps—down from 13 conditions—to combat extremism and terrorism, a sign the crisis that engulfed the region may be a step closer to resolution.

Abdallah al-Mouallimi, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the UN, said Tuesday at the United Nations that the six principles included combating extremism and terrorism; suspending provocations and incitement; and not interfering in the internal affairs of other countries. (You can read the others here.) He said Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates, the four countries that severed links last month with Qatar, wanted Doha to negotiate a plan to implement the six steps. Qatar has not yet responded to the demands.

Late last month, the four countries gave Qatar 10 days to comply with a list of 13 demands, including the closure of Al-Jazeera, the Qatari-owned Arabic language broadcaster that they see as an avenue for dissidents from across the region; the severing of links with Iran; the closure of a Turkish military base in Qatar; and the severing of links with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Qatar rejected those demands.

Mouallimi said Tuesday that while the four countries insisted that Qatar cease provocations and incitement against them, it may not be necessary for Al-Jazeera to be shut.

“If the only way to achieve that is by closing down Al-Jazeera, fine,” he reportedly said. “If we can achieve that without closing down Al Jazeera, that’s also fine. The important thing is the objective and the principle involved.”

The crisis erupted in early June when the four countries severed links with Qatar for its alleged support of terrorism—a charge Doha denies. They expelled Qatari citizens from their countries, recalled their citizens from Qatar, and cut off transportation links with the kingdom, which relies on imports brought in by road from Saudi Arabia and from the UAE’s ports.  In response, Qatar turned to Iran and Turkey for supplies and support. Relations between the Arab countries and Qatar have been frigid for years because, among other things, Qatar pursues a more independent foreign policy, which includes accommodation with groups such as the Taliban, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Hamas. It also is close to Iran and Turkey and, until recently, was friendly with Israel, too.

But the current crisis was precipitated by Qatari news reports in late May that quoted Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the country’s emir, as criticizing Saudi Arabia, praising Iran and Hamas, and describing Qatar’s relations with Israel as “good.” Qatari officials called the reports fake, adding its news websites were a victim of a “shameful cybercrime.” Then this week, The Washington Post reported that the UAE was behind the planting of the fake stories; the Emirates denied the charge.

The apparent concession offered by Mouallimi comes amid intense mediation by Kuwait, as well as U.S. diplomacy. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spent last week shuttling among Arab capitals in an attempt to resolve the dispute among its closest allies in the region. Tillerson and others have previously said any resolution of the dispute will take time. With the Saudi comments Tuesday, we may be one step closer.