Posts Tagged ‘Qatar’

Qatar Welcomes Saudi Border Opening, Even if ‘Politically-Motivated’

August 17, 2017

STOCKHOLM — Qatar welcomes the opening of the Saudi-Qatari border enabling Qataris to go on pilgrimage to Mecca, even if the move is politically-motivated, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said on Thursday.

“Despite the fact it’s been politically-motivated to ban the Qatari people from haj and politically that they allow them … we welcome such a step, which is a step forward to get rid of this blockade which is imposed against my country,” Sheikh Mohammed told a news conference on a visit to Sweden.

(Reporting by Daniel Dickson, Anna Ringstrom and Sylvia Westall in Dubai, Writing by William Maclean; Editing by Toby Chopra)

Bahrain state TV accuses Qatar of fomenting unrest, inciting hatred

August 17, 2017

BBC News

File photos of Ali Salman and Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani
A purported telephone call between Ali Salman (left) and Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani was recorded. AFP

Bahrain’s state TV channel has accused Qatar of plotting with the kingdom’s main opposition grouping to stoke anti-government unrest in 2011.

It broadcast purported recordings of telephone calls between former Qatari PM Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani and Wefaq leader Ali Salman, in which it claimed they agreed to an “escalation”.

The Bahraini public prosecutor has begun an investigation into the calls.

Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt cut links with Qatar in June.

The four countries accuse the emirate of supporting terrorist groups and of being too close to Iran – allegations the emirate has vigorously denied.

Qatar has condemned the land, sea and air restrictions put in place by its neighbours, which have forced it to import food by sea and air to meet the basic needs of its population of 2.7 million.

The state-run Bahrain news agency reported that the purported telephone conversation between Sheikh Hamad and Ali Salman “included an agreement between the two speakers on… how to deal with the situation then so as to exacerbate it and undermine Bahrain’s interests and stability”.

“This represents a crime of exchanging intelligence information with a foreign country to jeopardize the kingdom’s national interests,” it added. “The public prosecution will announce the outcome of the investigation as soon as it is over.”

There was no immediate comment from the Qatari authorities or from Sheikh Hamad, who stepped down as prime minister and foreign minister in 2013.

Sunni-ruled Bahrain has been wracked by unrest since security forces crushed pro-democracy protests mainly led by the majority Shia community six years ago.

The king brought in troops from neighbouring Sunni-led Gulf states to end the demonstrations and restore order. The unrest left 30 civilians and five police dead.

Activists say dozens more people have been killed in clashes between protesters and security forces since then, while bomb attacks blamed on Shia militants allegedly backed by Iran have killed a number of policemen.

Sheikh Ali Salman was jailed in 2015 after being convicted of inciting hatred, promoting disobedience and insulting public institutions, while Wefaq was dissolved last year for allegedly fomenting sectarian unrest.

Military leaders from Iran, Turkey meet to discuss Syria, Kurds, and counter-terrorism

August 16, 2017

ANKARA — Turkish and Iranian military leaders held talks on Wednesday over cooperation in the Syrian conflict and counter-terrorism, officials said, during a rare visit to NATO-member Turkey by the Islamic Republic’s military chief of staff.

Turkey’s ties with Washington have been strained by U.S. support for Kurdish fighters in Syria, and the visit by Iranian General Mohammad Baqeri is the latest sign that Ankara is increasing cooperation with other powers such as Iran and Russia.

Image result for Iranian General Mohammad Baqeri, in Turkey, photos

Iranian Chief of Staff Gen. Mohammad Hossein Bagheri (R) in Ankara to hold talks with a number of high-ranking Turkish officials on cooperation in settling the crises in Syria and Iraq and other issues

Baqeri met his Turkish counterpart on Tuesday and Turkey’s Defence Minister Nurettin Canikli on Wednesday in what Turkish media said was the first visit by an Iranian chief of staff since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution.

He was due to meet President Tayyip Erdogan later on Wednesday.

Turkey and Iran have supported rival sides in Syria’s six-year-old conflict, with Iran-backed fighters helping President Bashar al-Assad to drive back rebels battling to overthrow him, including some supported by Ankara.

Turkey is concerned that the Syrian chaos has empowered Kurdish forces who it says are closely tied to the long-running insurgency in its southeastern regions, as well as Islamic State fighters who have waged attacks inside Turkey, and is working with Iran and Russia to reduce the fighting in some areas.

An Iranian source said Baqeri was accompanied by the head of the ground forces of the Revolutionary Guards Corps, Iran’s most powerful security entity.

“There have been no such visits between the two countries for a long time, but considering regional developments and security issues – border security and the fight against terrorism – there was a need for such a visit,” Baqeri told Iranian state television on arrival on Tuesday.

The Iranian source said that, in addition to the war in Syria, the two sides would discuss the conflict in Iraq as well as dealing with Kurdish militants in the Turkish-Iranian border region, where Turkish media say Turkey has started building a frontier wall.


Turkey, Iran and Russia agreed in May to set up “de-escalation zones” in Syria to try to stem the fighting in some parts of the country, including the northern province of Idlib, which borders Turkey and has since been overrun by jihadists linked to a former al Qaeda affiliate.

That has thrown into question any suggestion that the three countries could deploy a force to police the Idlib region.

“The negotiations regarding the Idlib issue are still ongoing,” Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told Turkish broadcaster TRT Haber on Wednesday.

“After the Iranian chief of staff, the Russian chief of staff will also come to Turkey,” he added.

Turkey has said for months that it is close to buying an S-400 missile defense system from Russia, and Erdogan said in July that the deal had already been signed.

Cavusoglu said Russia understood Turkey’s sensitivities about arming Kurdish fighters better than the United States, although he said U.S. officials had informed Turkey that the most recent shipments to the YPG did not include guns.

“The United States gives us reports about how many weapons they have given to the YPG every month,” he said. The latest “said they gave armored vehicles and a bulldozer, but no guns.”

Turkey’s stepped-up military talks with Iran and Russia coincide with a major oil and gas deal involving firms from the three countries.

The Turkish firm Unit International said this week it has signed a $7 billion agreement with Russia’s state-owned Zarubezhneft and Iran’s Ghadir Investment Holding to drill for oil and natural gas in Iran.

Turkey is also discussing transporting more goods through Iran to the Gulf state of Qatar, which is locked in a dispute with its neighbors Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

(Additional reporting by Tulay Karadeniz and Ece Toksabay in Ankara; Editing by Dominic Evans and Alister Doyle)

With a Wary Eye on Iran, Saudi and Iraqi Leaders Draw Closer

August 16, 2017

BAGHDAD/DUBAI — It was an unusual meeting: an Iraqi Shi’ite Muslim cleric openly hostile to the United States sat in a palace sipping juice at the invitation of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, the Sunni kingdom that is Washington’s main ally in the Middle East.

For all the implausibility, the motivations for the July 30 gathering in Jeddah between Moqtada al-Sadr and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman run deep, and center on a shared interest in countering Iranian influence in Iraq.

For Sadr, who has a large following among the poor in Baghdad and southern Iraqi cities, it was part of efforts to bolster his Arab and nationalist image ahead of elections where he faces Shi’ite rivals close to Iran.

For the newly elevated heir to the throne of conservative Saudi Arabia, the meeting, and talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in June, are an attempt to build alliances with Iraqi Shi’ite leaders in order to roll back Iranian influence.

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Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud (R) receives Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, June 19, 2017. (photo by REUTERS/Bandar Algaloud)

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“Sadr’s visit to Saudi Arabia is a bold shift of his policy to deliver a message to regional, influential Sunni states that not all Shi’ite groups carry the label ‘Made in Iran’,” said Baghdad-based analyst Ahmed Younis.

This policy has assumed greater prominence now that Islamic State has been driven back in northern Iraq, giving politicians time to focus on domestic issues ahead of provincial council elections in September and a parliamentary vote next year.

“This is both a tactical and strategic move by Sadr. He wants to play the Saudis off against the Iranians, shake down both sides for money and diplomatic cover,” said Ali Khedery, who was a special assistant to five U.S. ambassadors in Iraq.


Ultimately, Sadr seeks a leadership role in Iraq that would allow him to shape events without becoming embroiled in daily administration, which could erode his popularity, diplomats and analysts say.

Such a role – religious guide and political kingmaker – would fit with the patriarchal status the Sadr religious dynasty has for many Shi’ite Arabs in Iraq, Lebanon, Kuwait and Bahrain.

Days after the Jeddah meeting, Sadr met Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, who has also taken an assertive line against Tehran, the dominant foreign power in Iraq since the 2003 U.S. invasion ended Sunni minority rule.

Iran has since increased its regional influence, with its forces and allied militias spearheading the fight against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and holding sway in Baghdad.

For Saudi Arabia, which sees itself as the bastion of Sunni Islam, less Iranian influence in Iraq would be a big win in a rivalry that underpins conflict across the Middle East.

“There are plans to secure peace and reject sectarianism in the region,” Sadr told the Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat newspaper last week, and it was “necessary to bring Iraq back into the Arab fold”.

Washington supports the Saudi-Iraq rapprochement, but the embracing of Sadr raises questions about whether it sees a man known for his anti-Americanism as a reliable figure.

“It is perhaps close to a necessary evil,” a U.S. official said of the visit, although it was a “very uncomfortable position for us to be in” due to the Sadr’s anti-Americanism, which had led to the deaths of U.S. citizens.

“His visits to the region, and broadly the high profile visits by Iraq, those things broadly are good, in that they get Iraq facing the Gulf nations and they help to turn their attention away from Iran,” the official said.


A politician close to Sadr said the Jeddah meeting was aimed at building confidence and toning down sectarian rhetoric between the two countries.

The rapprochement is “a careful testing of the waters with the Abadi government and some of the Shia centers of influence like Sadr and, the interior minister,” said Ali Shihabi, Executive Director of the Washington-based Arabia Foundation.

How far detente can go is unclear: Iran has huge political, military and economic influence in Iraq. Saudi Arabia is playing catch-up, having reopened an embassy in Baghdad only in 2015 after a 25-year break caused by the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

Whatever the Saudis and Gulf states do, “Iran will stay the key player in Iraq for at least the next 10 years,” said Wathiq al-Hashimi, chairman of the Iraqi Group for Strategic Studies think-tank.

Khedery said Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states were not skilled at exerting external influence.

“They usually just throw money at issues and the beneficiaries of that largesse become very, very wealthy and that’s it,” he said. The Iranians in Iraq offered intelligence, diplomatic support and cash and wielded “big sticks” against anyone stepping out of line, he said.

Still, the Jeddah meeting has produced practical results.

Sadr’s office said there was an agreement to study investment in Shi’ite regions of southern Iraq. Riyadh will also consider opening a consulate in Iraq’s holy Shi’ite city of Najaf, Sadr’s base.

Saudi Arabia would donate $10 million to help Iraqis displaced by the war on Islamic State in Iraq, Sadr said, while Iraq’s oil minister said Riyadh had discussed building hospitals in Basra and Baghdad.

After the Saudi trip, Sadr again urged the Iraqi government to dismantle the Tehran-backed Shi’ite paramilitary groups involved in the fight against Islamic State – a theme that is expected to become a top election issue.

A source from Sadr’s armed group told Reuters that after the visit orders were issued to remove anti-Saudi banners from its headquarters, vehicles and streets.

Sadr had called on the Saudis to “stop hostile speeches by fanatical hardline clerics who describe Shi’ites as infidels,” and Crown Prince Mohammed had promised efforts towards this, the politician close to Sadr said.

It remains to be seen how far Saudi Arabia can prevent anti-Shi’ite outbursts by its media or on social media, since Wahhabism, the kingdom’s official ultra-conservative Sunni Muslim school, regards Shi’ism as heretical.

But Saudi minister of state for Gulf affairs Thamer al-Subhan called for tolerance after greeting Sadr, using Twitter to decry “Sunni extremism and Shi’ite extremism”.

Saudi Arabia this week cracked down on Twitter users including a radical Sunni cleric who had published insulting comments about Shi’ites.


As part of the wider detente, Iraq and Saudi Arabia announced last month they are setting up a council to upgrade strategic relations.

The Saudi cabinet has approved a joint trade commission to look at investment while a Saudi daily reported the countries planned to reopen a border crossing shut for more than 25 years – a point raised by Sadr on his visit.

Another sign of rapprochement is an agreement to increase direct flights to a daily basis. Iraqi Airways hopes to reopen offices in Saudi airports to help Iraqis travel to the kingdom, especially for pilgrimages, Iraq’s transport ministry said.

Then there is coordination on energy policy.

As OPEC producers, the two cooperated in November to support oil prices. Their energy ministers discussed bilateral cooperation and investment last week.

Iranian reaction to the meetings has been minimal.

“Iraqi personalities and officials do not need our permission to travel outside of Iraq or to report to us,” foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi said last week, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

(Additional reporting by Maher Chmaytelli in Erbil, William Maclean and Rania El Gamal in Dubai and Yara Bayoumy in Washington; editing by Giles Elgood)

Qatar’s economy still strong despite Saudi-led multi-nation boycott

August 16, 2017


© AFP/File / by Aymeric Vincenot | Qatar’s economy has been hit by the sanctions imposed by a Saudi-led Arab bloc but the emirate’s economy is strong enough to survive, argue local and international analysts
DOHA (AFP) – Qatar’s economy has been hit by the sanctions imposed by a Saudi-led Arab bloc but the emirate’s economy is strong enough to survive, analysts say.

Since June 5, Saudi Arabia and allies Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates shut down air, maritime and land links with Qatar, and imposed economic sanctions, accusing Doha of supporting “terrorists” and of being too close to Iran.

Qatar, denying the charges, accuses its Gulf neighbours of seeking to strangle its economy.

The heavily air-conditioned malls of Doha, a city in the throes of a $200-plus billion construction boom as it aims to make a splash on the world stage by hosting football’s 2022 World Cup, remain busy as ever, as do its roads.

To counter the sanctions and trading curbs, ally Turkey and neighbouring Iran have been pouring in food supplies by air and sea.

“In the medium- to long-term, perhaps people who live here will feel” the effects, but for the time being, “we haven’t felt any big difference”, said Mohamed Ammar, who heads the Qatari Businessmen Association.

For Rashid bin Ali al-Mansoori, CEO of the Qatar Stock Exchange, the worst is already over. The second most highly-capitalised bourse in the Middle East plunged seven percent on June 5 and lost almost 10 percent in the first three days.

“We were surprised and the market also was surprised, so the market really reacted to the news like any other market of course,” he said.

But “the Qatar economy is very strong, it’s the strongest economy in the region… investor trust and confidence in the market is still there,” said Mansoori.

The level, however, remains around six percent lower than during pre-crisis Qatar.

And analysts are predicting a long drawn-out crisis which will affect investor confidence, with Bloomberg assessing at the end of July that Qatar’s economy was showing “the strain”.

“Data released last week showed that foreign deposits at Qatar’s banks fell the most in almost two years last month as customers withdrew funds, pressuring liquidity available locally for businesses and the government,” it said.

Amy McAlister of consultancy firm Oxford Economics said central bank data showed reserves were running at their lowest level since May 2012, a slide of 30 percent compared with June 2016.

“Uncertainty will have prompted banks and portfolio investment funds to withdraw money from Qatar, leading to a fall in reserves as the central bank tries to ease liquidity pressures,” she said.

“The central bank will have also depleted reserves to support the currency peg to the US dollar, which has seen pressure since the dispute began.”

– ‘Most resilient in Mideast’ –

Oxford Economics has revised its growth outlook for 2017 down to 1.4 percent, compared with 3.4 percent before the Gulf crisis, and re-evaluated inflation at 1.8 percent, up from the anticipated 1.5 percent, because of higher import costs.

Fitch, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s have downgraded their credit ratings for Qatar.

But analysts have faith in the capacity of Qatar, holder of the world’s third-largest natural gas reserves after giants Russia and Iran, to withstand a long crisis.

“Qatar is the most resilient country in the Middle East by far,” said Andreas Krieg, a strategic risk analyst and assistant professor at King’s College London university.

“They are very determined to see this through. Unlike the other countries, they have the most stable economy and the most stable financial situation.

“The per capita reserves they have are the greatest in the world. Even if they have to liquidate some of their investments overseas, they could do but, at this point, this is not on the books,” he said.

The tiny emirate with a population of 2.6 million, 80 percent of them foreigners, ranks as the world’s richest on a per-capita basis, according to the International Monetary Fund.

It holds a staggering $330 billion in a sovereign wealth fund, with assets heavily invested abroad.

“It is worth pointing out that these reserves do not include the foreign assets of the sovereign wealth fund, so the wider impact may not be as significant as the sharp drop initially suggests,” said McAlistair.

For McAlistair, despite uncertainty over the timeframe of the crisis, “Qatar will likely be able to withstand economic sanctions for many years”.

by Aymeric Vincenot

‘Lot of time’ needed to rebuild trust in Gulf: Qatar FM

August 15, 2017


© AFP/File / by David Harding | “Qatar has always been one of the founders of the GCC organisation and we still consider that this has a great importance for all of us in the region,” Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said
DOHA (AFP) – Qatar’s foreign minister said Tuesday it will take a “lot of time” to rebuild any trust between sparring Gulf countries because of the region’s continuing diplomatic crisis.

As the impasse between Doha and four Arab states led by Saudi Arabia entered its 11th week, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said regional relations had been transformed by the dispute.

“Qatar has always been one of the founders of the GCC organisation and we still consider that this has a great importance for all of us in the region,” he told reporters.

Created in 1981, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is a political and economic union comprised of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

“This organisation has been built on a strategical security and been built on trust.

“Unfortunately, what happened lately with this crisis, this factor is missing now and needs a lot of time to rebuild the trust again.

“We hope that it’s restored.”

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt cut ties with Qatar on June 5 — accusing it of backing extremism and fostering ties with Iran — triggering the biggest political crisis in the Gulf for several years.

Doha denies the claims and accuses the other countries of an attack on its sovereignty.

The Saudi-led countries have also imposed sanctions including restrictions on Qatari aircraft using their airspace.

The foreign minister added that the conflict was unnecessary.

“Such a crisis is not needed in our region, we have enough problems and enough conflict.

“A region like the Gulf region, which was considered the most stable region in the Arab world is now destabilised because… of a crisis without a solid foundation.”

However, he added that diplomatic efforts led by regional mediator Kuwait were continuing.

“We have received a letter from the Emir of Kuwait a few days ago. And this letter is a continuous effort… to encourage the parties to engage in dialogue.”

Despite this, Sheikh Mohammed said Qatar was still waiting to hear from its rivals.

“Put up your claims and put up your evidence. We told them (Saudi-led countries) anywhere you want, whatever evidence you have, just put it on the table.

“Now its been 72 days since the first day of their measures and we have not been provided with a single document.”

Experts have speculated that the diplomatic uncertainty in the region will lead to the demise of the GCC.

One, Andreas Krieg, a political risk analyst at King’s College London, told AFP that the GCC was “dying by the day”.

“The Kuwaiti emir is a great believer in the GCC and will do everything he can to resolve the crisis to save the GCC.

“However, realistically, the GCC cannot survive this crisis,” he said.

by David Harding

Qatar Will Not Be Intimidated

August 14, 2017

It’s time to resolve the dispute, which is driven by Saudi and Emirati hypocrisy.


Aug. 13, 2017 5:48 p.m. ET

As the Gulf crisis enters its third month, it is clear the blockade against Qatar has not succeeded.

If Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates—the countries driving the confrontation, despite the appearance of a unified bloc—hoped to bring Qatar to its knees, they have failed. If they hoped to damage Qatar’s reputation and improve their own, they have failed. If they hoped to enhance their relationship with the U.S. at Qatar’s expense, again, they have failed.

Instead, the anti-Qatar smear campaign has put a spotlight on the shameful history and unsavory practices of the Saudis and Emiratis themselves. Saudi Arabia justifies the blockade by alleging that Qatari authorities “support extremists and terrorist organizations.” But the accusation only reminds observers that the Saudis have consistently failed to prevent the radicalization of their citizens.

Fifteen of the 19 hijackers in the 9/11 attacks were Saudis. Thousands of Saudi citizens have taken up arms to join Islamic State and other radical groups. Saudi textbooks are used in ISIS schools. Many of the five dozen groups that the U.S. State Department designates as terror organizations are funded by Saudi nationals.

The Emirates have taken a similarly hypocritical stance. While the U.A.E. falsely portrays itself as America’s best ally in the region, its track record is no better than Saudi Arabia’s. Two Emiratis participated in the Sept. 11 hijackings, and the staff report to the 9/11 Commission revealed that much of the funding for the attacks flowed through the U.A.E., which was a world hub for money laundering.

The U.A.E. has fared no better with regard to freedom of speech and press. In 2014 authorities arrested a man for plotting a terrorist attack on a Formula One racetrack in Abu Dhabi. But the Emirates prohibitedinternational media outlets from reporting on the trial. The U.A.E.’s recent clampdown on free speech has been widely condemned, especially after the country’s Justice Ministry said in June that supporting Qatar on social media could be punishable by fines and even prison time.

Meanwhile, leaked emails show that Emirati officials were conspiring with a variety of interest groups and lobbyists on a campaign to slander Qatar long before the blockade was imposed. Now intelligence experts and Qatar’s cybersecurity services have identified the U.A.E. as the perpetrator of the hacking of Qatar News Agency, which set the entire Gulf crisis in motion.

Surely this kind of publicity can’t be what the Saudis and Emiratis hoped for when they instigated this crisis. Yet the longer the blockade goes on, the more damaging information the world will learn about them—and the more difficult it will be to resolve their differences with Qatar.

It’s time to abandon the public-relations campaigns, the blockade, the ultimatums and the pressure tactics and meet at the negotiating table, so we can broker a fair and just resolution to the Gulf crisis.

Mr. Al-Gahtani is special envoy for Qatar’s foreign minister for counterterrorism and mediation of conflict resolution.


Kuwait arrests 12 ‘terrorists’ with alleged ties to Iran

August 12, 2017
 August 12 at 5:33 AM
Israel sees Iran and Lebanese ally Hezbollah (pictured) as its greatest existential threat, a view shared by the leaders of the region’s main Sunni Arab states
KUWAIT CITY — Kuwait’s Interior Ministry says 12 men with links to a terrorist group associated with Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard have been arrested.The ministry said in a statement late Friday that the men were among a group of 26 who had received prison sentences from Kuwait’s Supreme Court in June but they refused to turn themselves in. They were accused of weapons possession and planning “hostile actions” inside Kuwait.

One Iranian man was tried in absentia and the rest are Kuwaiti nationals. Four men remained at large.

The case spurred Kuwait to shutter the Iranian cultural mission and reduce the number of Iranian diplomats stationed there last month, deepening a rift between the Gulf Arab states and Tehran.

The government says the terror group was uncovered in 2015.

Kushner to Meet With Mideast Leaders in Latest Attempt at Peace Deal

August 12, 2017

WASHINGTON — Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, will soon travel to the Middle East for yet another foray into trying to forge a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians, one of the most difficult diplomatic assignments of the Trump administration.

Mr. Kushner, who traveled to the region in June, will be accompanied on the trip by Jason Greenblatt, a special representative for international negotiations, and Dina Powell, a deputy national security adviser. No date was announced.

The three will hold meetings with leaders from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, said a White House official. The discussions will focus on resolving the impediments to peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, but will also cover combating extremism, the official said.

That topic could take Mr. Kushner even deeper into territory generally reserved for Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson. A bitter feud between Saudi Arabia and Qatar over how to combat extremism has split the Gulf Cooperation Council, putting a host of American priorities in the region at risk. Mr. Tillerson spent hours on the phone and days on the ground in the Middle East recently in an unsuccessful attempt to resolve the standoff, which led Saudi Arabia and three other Arab states to slap an embargo on Qatar.

Mr. Tillerson’s efforts were repeatedly undermined by Mr. Trump, who largely sided with the Saudis. A frustrated Mr. Tillerson said he had set aside the matter, but Mr. Kushner’s wading into the issue could cause tensions in an administration already rived by internal disputes.

In most administrations, crucial diplomatic efforts are given to the secretary of state, but Mr. Trump gave the task of forging a Middle East peace deal to Mr. Kushner, who is also expected to focus on the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

By talking to multiple players in the region, Mr. Kushner may be hoping to recruit Arab countries to offer outlines of a deal that would be difficult for either the Israelis or Palestinians to reject, known as the “outside-in” approach.

Mr. Kushner was criticized when he said in a talk given to interns, which was later leaked, that he did not want to focus on the region’s complex history. “We don’t want a history lesson,” Mr. Kushner said. “We’ve read enough books.”

Many in the region see their history as crucial to the dispute as well as any resolution, so critics saw the remarks as a sign of inexperience.

Among the challenges Mr. Kushner could confront on the trip are the myriad legal problems facing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, which have begun to threaten his political standing.

Qatar Crisis Redraws Red Lines and Frays Age-Old Gulf Ties

August 12, 2017

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — It’s early morning at a fishing port in Dubai. A group of mostly retired fishermen are playing cards, eating dates and drinking coffee at the port’s majlis, a traditional meeting space.

Here, the Emirati fisherman say they aren’t too worried about the political fallout with Qatar that’s gripped the region since early June, when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with the small Gulf state, accusing it of supporting extremists.

“When it comes to politics, it’s not our business,” Thani Obeid said. “If everyone walks around saying their opinion there will be chaos.”

Obeid, 65, and Salem Jomaa, 70, say they have faith in the “wisdom” of the region’s rulers because “we are one family.”

“The Gulf is one home. From Saudi Arabia to Ras al-Khaimah (in the UAE) to Oman. We are all brothers, cousins, friends,” Jomaa said. “We are all Muslims.”

Centuries-old ties that bind families to tribes and tribes to ruling sheikhs underpin the Arabian Peninsula, but that kinship is now under strain.

The crisis has also upended some red lines, making what was once illegal now legal, and vice-versa.

Chief among them was an understanding — enshrined in tradition and government enforced — that criticism of another Gulf country or its esteemed ruler could lead to automatic imprisonment and hefty fines.

After the row erupted June 5, those rules changed. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain warned instead that anyone who sympathizes with Qatar or criticizes the measures taken against it would be imprisoned and fined.

Qatari citizens were also expelled from the three countries after years of visa-free travel throughout the Gulf. Transport links with Qatar were cut and Saudi Arabia sealed shut Qatar’s only land border, impacting food imports.

Saudi and Emirati officials insist the measures are not aimed at Qatari citizens, but at the government. That distinction has meant little to Qataris who say the blockade on their country and the assault on their leadership is like an attack on the whole society.

Image may contain: one or more people, indoor and food

Qatari Food companies step in to fill the void

“If they talk about our emir, it’s like they are talking about us. The siege and blockade and making it illegal to sympathize with Qatar, this is against us,” Ahmed al-Khayli, a 36-year-old Qatari said.

Speaking by phone from Qatar, al-Khayli said he believes the relationship between Qataris and others in the Gulf has become “more sensitive.”

Many Qataris — who number around 270,000 citizens — believe their small, energy-rich country is standing up for itself, refusing to surrender its sovereignty. Patriotic fervor has swept through the country. Towering images of its 37-year-old ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, are plastered on cars, billboards and storefronts across the capital.

In Qatar and the UAE, where foreigners far outnumber locals, many talk with sincere admiration for their rulers. It’s a relationship that harkens to a time when tribal elders were responsible for the security of their communities, which relied on pearl diving and fishing for survival. Then, as now, tribes in the Arabian Peninsula intermarried.

The expulsion of Qataris separated mixed-nationality families, parents from their children and husbands from their wives. After public outcry, the three Gulf countries said exceptions would be made for immediate family members, though rights groups say students and families are still being affected.


Hamad al-Kulaib, a 38-year-old Kuwaiti businessman, said the crisis “feels like a battle of the egos” between high-ranking officials. Kuwait, which has remained neutral, is trying to mediate the crisis.

“The tension between Qatar and the Saudi-led bloc is certainly putting all our social relationships in danger,” he said.

Though there have been fallouts in the past between Gulf states, this is the most severe crisis in decades.

Saudi and Emirati media have unleashed a barrage of critical reports about Qatar, accusing it of sedition, lying, sponsoring terrorism and trying to destabilize the region. Qatar’s support of opposition Islamist groups and its ties with Iran has unnerved its neighbors. Qatar says accusations it backs extremist groups are politically motivated and denies it has ever sponsored terrorism.

Meanwhile, Qatari-affiliated press upped their critical coverage of Saudi Arabia since the row erupted. Qatar and the UAE have also traded accusations of hacking.

In the years before the crisis, state-linked news channels and papers did not criticize a fellow Gulf nation’s ruler or policies.

Officially, at least, Qatar has kept a modicum of decorum in place. The emir congratulated the Saudi king and his son, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, when he was elevated to crown prince in late June. The emir also sent a cable of condolences to King Salman on the death of his elder brother.

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Those acts sparked a hashtag on Twitter in support of Qatar, and another hashtag said Saudis still welcome ties with Qatari citizens. Twitter is also where people have rallied behind their governments.

Emirati social media star Taim al-Falasi hit back at accusations that citizens in the UAE were being paid to support the moves against Qatar. In a fiercely-worded post, she asked Qataris how they could continue to support their emir after all the allegations made against Qatar.

At the majlis in Dubai’s harbor, the fishermen shake their heads when the mention of Twitter comes up. They disapprove of the fierce words being traded online.

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“If you add fuel to a fire, the fire will grow,” Obeid said.

In Kuwait, 27-year-old Barrak al-Dakhail says the crisis has polarized opinions there and made relationships among people in the Gulf “awkward.”

“If the situation continues to escalate, it might create a bigger wedge between the people … and that’s certainly something we don’t want,” he said.


Associated Press writer Hussain al-Qatari contributed from Kuwait City.