By Alexander Cornwell
DUBAI (Reuters) – Talks between Saudi Arabia and Qatar to resolve a bitter Gulf dispute broke down soon after starting, six sources said, leaving in place a political and trade embargo of Doha that hampers joint Gulf Arab efforts to counter Iran.
The discussions that began in October were the first glimmer of a thaw in the row that saw Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt sever political, trade and transport ties with Qatar in mid-2017.
The countries accused Qatar of supporting terrorism and cozying up to regional foe Iran. Doha denies the charges and says the embargo by its fellow Gulf Arabs aims to undermine its sovereignty.
Washington has strong ties with all the states involved, including Qatar which hosts the largest U.S. military base in the region, and sees the rift as a threat to efforts to contain Iran. It has pushed for a united Gulf front.
Qatar’s priority in the discussions was to restore free movement for its citizens to the boycotting nations, access to the airspace of those countries and reopening Qatar’s only land border shared with Saudi Arabia, four Western diplomats in the Gulf and two sources familiar with Qatari thinking said.
However, Riyadh wanted Qatar to first demonstrate a fundamental change in behaviour, particularly in its foreign policy that has seen Doha back opposing sides in several regional conflicts, three of the diplomats said.