Two U.S. Envoys to Visit Gulf in New Push to Defuse Crisis

  • Americans, including retired general, to start visit in Kuwait
  • Gulf official says hoping the two will carry new proposals

Qatar Launches WTO Complaint Over Gulf Country Blockade

Two U.S. envoys are expected in Kuwait later on Monday before embarking on a tour of the four states that have isolated Qatar, according to a Gulf official with direct knowledge of the visit, in the latest push by Washington to help defuse the two-month standoff.

General Anthony Zinni, a retired former head of U.S. Central Command, will be accompanied by Timothy Lenderking, deputy assistant secretary of state for Arabian Gulf affairs, according to the official. From Kuwait, which has taken a lead role in mediating the dispute, they’ll travel to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, before heading to Qatar.

Anthony Zinni

Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Hours before the arrival of the U.S. envoys, a delegation left Kuwait with a message for the Saudi king from Kuwait’s ruler, according to state-run KUNA news agency. It will later deliver another letter to Egypt’s president, according to the agency.

The Saudi-led alliance cut transport, economic and diplomatic ties with Qatar on June 5, accusing it of funding extremism -- a charge vehemently denied by Doha -- and being too close to chief Saudi regional rival Iran. There have been few signs of progress in bridging differences since then, with the four-nation bloc dismissing Qatari amendments to its anti-terrorism laws as not enough. The official said he hoped the envoys would bring new proposals. 

The crisis pits U.S. allies against each other in a power struggle over regional influence. Saudi Arabia has strong counter-terrorism ties with the U.S. and is a top customer for American weapons. Qatar hosts the regional headquarters for U.S. Central Command, which includes a state-of-the-art air base the Pentagon depends on to target Islamic State.

The standoff started shortly after Donald Trump’s visit to Riyadh in May, and the U.S. president initially sided with the Saudi-led bloc before giving his top diplomat the authority to help resolve the dispute.

‘U.S. Linchpin’

The mixed message coming from the U.S. in the early “stages really was helping to prolong the crisis and making it worse,” said Emily Hawthorne, Middle East and North Africa analyst at Texas-based advisory firm Stratfor. “There’s been a harmonization of the messages somewhat since then, but that’s largely because Trump hasn’t commented on it recently.”

The Saudi-led alliance has issued a list of 13 demands, including shuttering the Al Jazeera television channel, that Qatar must meet before talks to resolve the crisis could start. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson flew to the region last month and presented proposals aimed at preparing both sides for direct negotiations. Those efforts reached an impasse, the Gulf official said at the time.

“The United States is a linchpin here,” said Hawthorne. “By nature of having such deep security ties and trade ties with the countries on both sides of this conflict, the United States can’t pick sides very clearly, and so both sides feel like they have U.S. backing.”

— With assistance by Dana Khraiche

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