The US and the UK proposed a road map to help resolve the standoff between a Saudi-led alliance and Qatar during Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s trip to the region last week, according to a Gulf official with direct knowledge of the matter.
The proposals include laying the grounds for direct negotiations based on an accord that resolved a previous dispute between the Gulf nations, as well as counterterrorism measures, the official said on condition of anonymity.
Tillerson has also proposed measures to ease tension, including the suspension of media attacks, the official said.
US and UK officials had no comment. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt severed their diplomatic and transport links with Qatar last month, accusing it of supporting Sunni extremists and Iranian-backed Shiite militants. Qatar has denied the charges.
Officials from the Saudi-led bloc initially presented a list of 13 demands that Qatar rejected, included shutting Al Jazeera television, ending its support of the Muslim Brotherhood group and scaling back ties with Iran.
Now, the coalition is saying that the small Gulf country must agree to six broader principles including combating terrorism, denying financing and shelter to terrorist groups, suspending provocations and speeches inciting hatred or violence, and refraining from interference in the internal affairs of others.
It’s important to reach agreement on the principles, while other issues such as those in the original list of demands are open to debate, Saudi Arabia’s UN Ambassador Abdallah al-Mouallimi told reporters in New York on Tuesday.
“There are principles, and some of the points within 13 demands were tools to achieve compliance with the principles,” al-Mouallimi said. “We can have discussion” on how the principles are implemented.
The softer tone suggests the Saudi-led coalition is seeking a compromise, according to Simon Henderson, an Arabian Gulf expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
“The four countries are under great pressure from the US and some of the Europeans to have a diplomatic resolution to the crisis,” Henderson said in an interview. “The earlier demands didn’t offer themselves to a diplomatic solution other than complete surrender of Qatar. This might be the beginning of an approach to negotiated settlement rather than ratcheting up of tensions.”
Anwar Gargash, the UAE minister of state for foreign affairs, told Bloomberg TV in London that monitoring Qatar’s compliance will be a “major” part of any agreement.
Qatar and its neighbours signed two agreements in 2013 and 2014 to end a diplomatic crisis that centred on Qatar’s support of the Brotherhood.
Those documents, released earlier this month, included pledges “not to interfere in the internal affairs” of other Gulf Cooperation Council members and not to harbour people engaged in activities damaging to those countries.
The 2014 pact added a condition that all signatories adopt Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s embrace of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi’s government in Egypt, which replaced one sponsored by the Brotherhood and removed by the military.
Speaking to reporters last week on his airplane after three days shuttling between Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, which is mediating the crisis along with the US, Tillerson said the point of his visit was to listen to each side and offer “alternative ways forward” to resolve the standoff where past efforts have failed.
“There’s a changed sense of willingness to at least be open to talking to one another and that was not the case before I came,” Tillerson said.
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