US hopeful for resolution on Qatar blockade

Washington (AFP) –

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A US official voiced guarded hope Wednesday for an easing of the three-year blockade of Qatar by its Gulf neighbors amid a diplomatic push by Washington.

"There is some movement. I would like to say that it's going to be a matter of weeks," David Schenker, the top US diplomat for the Middle East, said at the Brookings Institution.

Schenker said the United States has been speaking with all sides but that the key players still had issues dividing them.

"There's not been a fundamental shift that makes this that we're going to push the door open right now, but in our talks we're detecting a little more flexibility," he said.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt in June 2017 severed diplomatic ties with Qatar and imposed an aviation embargo on the gas-rich Gulf state.

It accused Doha -- which maintains relations around the region and is home to broadcaster Al-Jazeera -- of backing radical Islamists as well as Iran.

Qatar in July won a ruling at the International Court of Justice as it fights airspace restrictions by the other Arab states.

President Donald Trump, who has close relations with the Saudi and Emirati leaders, initially sided against Qatar, but the United States has since tried to ease tensions.

Washington is hoping for Arab unity against arch-rival Iran and has a major air base in Qatar.

The Trump administration has stepped up diplomacy in the Gulf as it seeks to showcase its achievements ahead of November elections.

In recent weeks, the United States sealed a deal with the United Arab Emirates to recognize Israel and has separately worked with Qatar to negotiate with Afghanistan's Taliban.