Progress in resolving Gulf Arab rift could come within weeks, U.S. official says

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – There could be some progress within weeks in resolving a three year-long rift between Gulf Arab states, a senior U.S. State Department official said on Wednesday, citing signs of “flexibility” in negotiations.

David Schenker, the department’s top diplomat for the Middle East, was quick to urge caution however, because there hasn’t been any fundamental shift in talks that would quickly lead to a resolution.

The dispute dates from 2017 when the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt imposed a boycott on Qatar, severing diplomatic and transport ties and accusing it of supporting terrorism. Qatar denies allegations of supporting terrorism.

“I don’t want to get into the whole diplomacy in it but there is some movement. I would like to say that it’s going to be a matter of weeks,” Schenker told a virtual event by the Washington-based Brookings Institute.

Kuwait and the United States have tried to mediate a rift that has undermined Washington’s efforts to form a united front against Iran, which is struggling for regional supremacy with Saudi Arabia.

“There’s not been a fundamental shift that … we’re going to push the door open right now, but in our talks we’re detecting a little bit more flexibility, so we’re hoping we can bring the sides closer together and end this … distraction,” he said. Schenker added that the “these are two sides that are dug in … and yet there is a recognition that this is a distraction from Iran.”

Schenker said Washington has been involved in efforts to end the rift at the highest level, including President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The boycotting nations set 13 demands, including closing Al Jazeera television, shuttering a Turkish base, downgrading ties with Iran and cutting links to the Muslim Brotherhood.

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