DOHA/KUWAIT CITY: Arab states isolating Qatar extended a deadline Monday for the country to respond to their demands by another 48 hours, allowing its top diplomat to carry a handwritten response to Kuwait’s ruler in an effort to end the diplomatic crisis.
Early Monday morning after the deadline expired, the countries said they were pushing back a deadline for Qatar to agree to a list of 13 demands they issued on June 22, after a request by Kuwait’s 88-year-old ruler, Sheikh Sabah al-Sabah. The emir has been trying to mediate an end to the crisis, as he did in a similar dispute in 2014.
“The response of the four states will then be sent following the study of the Qatari government’s response and assessment of its response to the whole demands,” the countries said in a statement.
Whether another two days will be enough to end the crisis, however, may be a stretch.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain already have plans to meet in Cairo Wednesday as the deadline expires to discuss their next moves.
Qatar’s foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdel-Rahman al-Thani, traveled later Monday to Kuwait City, carrying a handwritten note from Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, according to the state-run Kuwait News Agency. Kuwaiti and Qatari officials did not respond to questions about what the letter said, though a photograph from the meeting showed Sheikh Sabah reading it with no expression on his face.
Late Sunday, U.S. President Donald Trump spoke with Sheikh Tamim, as well as King Salman of Saudi Arabia and Mohammad bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the crown prince of the Emirati capital, Abu Dhabi.
The White House said Trump urged unity and reiterated the importance of stopping terrorist financing and discrediting extremist ideology. A separate statement carried on the official Qatar News Agency said the emir’s discussion with Trump touched on the need to fight terrorism and extremism in all its forms and sources, and was a chance for the countries to review their bilateral strategic relations. Trump later tweeted: “Spoke yesterday with the King of Saudi Arabia about peace in the Middle-East. Interesting things are happening!”
Germany’s foreign minister, speaking to reporters Monday in Saudi Arabia, said he hoped an agreement would be reached between Arab states and Qatar that ends terrorism financing across the region.
Sigmar Gabriel said after meeting Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir that the two agreed on the need to end any support for extremist organizations and said he hopes the demands made by Saudi Arabia and other countries that cut ties with Qatar focus on ending terror financing and incitement. He is scheduled to visit the United Arab Emirates and Qatar next.
Qatar, like the countries lined up against it, is a U.S. ally. It hosts some 10,000 American troops at the Al-Udeid Air Base. The facility is home to the forward headquarters of the U.S. Central Command and has been a key staging ground for the campaign against Daesh (ISIS) and the war in Afghanistan.
The crisis began June 5, as the countries cut off diplomatic ties to Qatar over their allegations that the world’s top producer of liquefied natural gas uses its wealth to fund extremist groups and has overly warm ties to Iran. Qatar long has denied funding terrorists, while it maintains communication with Iran as the two countries share a massive offshore natural gas field.
What comes next remains in question. If Qatar doesn’t agree to the demands, the Arab states could push forward with financial sanctions or pushing the country out of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Some Arab media outlets have gone as far as suggesting a military confrontation or new leadership be installed in Qatar.