The Cable

Saudis Shrug Off Arms Sale Freeze, Convinced Qatar Will Bend

As the diplomatic rift drags on, neither side shows much willingness to budge.


Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir has a plan for U.S.-Saudi relations if Qatar does not give into the other Gulf states’ strong demands: Hope that Qatar gives in anyway.

“I expect that wisdom will prevail and that Qatar will be responsive,” Al Jubeir told reporters at a media briefing Tuesday. He said the list of 13 demands to Qatar from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Bahrain, — which includes degrading relations with Iran and closing Al Jazeera — is non-negotiable.

Al Jubeir’s comments came just a day after Sen. Bob Corker, (R.-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said he intended to block future arms sales to Gulf states — including to Saudi Arabia — until he sees  “a path for resolving the ongoing dispute.” Since early June, Qatar’s Persian Gulf neighbors have blockaded the tiny country, accusing it of cozying up to Iran and coddling extremists.

For al Jubeir, Corker’s gambit cuts both ways: It would also prevent arms sales to Qatar, possibly providing a point of pressure to resolve the diplomatic impasse. (One big U.S. defense sale to Doha was just completed — on June 14, the United States signed a $12 billion dollar sale of F-15 jets to Qatar.)

“I think that Senator Corker’s statement was about finding a way forward,” Al Jubeir said.

That might be easier said than done. The State Department and Pentagon have reiterated that they would like a quick end to the standoff; the biggest U.S. military base in the region, and the launching pad for U.S. strikes on Islamic State, is in Qatar. But the Saudis, like the UAE, feel like they’ve got a sympathetic ear in Washington. (The Gulf states’ decision to ostracize Qatar came shortly after President Donald Trump’s first overseas trip, starting in Saudi Arabia, and Trump tweeted critically of Qatar in the first days of the crisis.)

“Does anyone in the U.S. government support Qatar harboring terrorists?” Al Jubeir asked, answering, “No one.”

But Qatar has not acknowledged that harboring or funding terrorists is the real reason for the diplomatic rift in the first place, which puts the Gulf states — and now Corker — at something of a standoff as the 10-day deadline presented to Qatar for meeting the demands inches closer.

Asked what will happen once said the deadline passes Sunday, Al Jubeir said only, “We will have to see when the time comes.”

Photo credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is the U.S. editor of the New Statesman and the author of The Influence of Soros, published July 2020. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

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