May 25, 2017 / 10:11 AM / a year ago

Qatar seeks to smooth ties with Gulf states after spat over 'fake' criticism

DOHA (Reuters) - Qatar sought on Thursday to allay strains with fellow Gulf Arabs over its policy toward Iran and Middle East Islamist groups, days after the Sunni-ruled monarchies put on a show of unity for a visit to the region by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Qatar's Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani attends a news conference in Doha, Qatar, May 25, 2017. REUTERS/Naseem Zeitoon

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had signaled exasperation after official Qatar media published purported remarks by Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani critical of Trump’s foreign policy and of renewed tensions with Tehran.

Qatar said the remarks, published late on Tuesday, were fake and that the news agency that ran them had been hacked in an apparent attempt to misrepresent Sheikh Tamim’s views.

“Qatar is always in favor of maintaining strong and brotherly relations with GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council)countries,” Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told a news conference on Thursday.

“In Riyadh we had very positive discussions about the relationship between Gulf countries,” he added, referring to the talks last week in the Saudi capital with Trump.

Qatar and it Gulf allies have used their oil and gas revenues to influence events in other Arab countries, and rifts between them can alter the political balance in Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

Relations have long been strained between Qatar and its Saudi and Emirati neighbors, which see the Qataris as too close to Islamist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood that threaten to upend the region’s established order.

Kuwait’s emir offered during a conversation with Sheikh Tamim on Thursday to mediate and host talks to ensure the feud does not escalate, a Gulf Arab official told Reuters.

Kuwaiti government officials were not immediately available for comment.

The tensions appeared to simmer on, with Al Raya, a government-owned Qatari daily, publishing pictures on its front page of UAE journalists it called “mercenaries”. A Saudi news website showed a cartoon of a Qatari man shaking the hand of a Gulf neighbor while stabbing him in the back with a knife.

Qatar’s Sheikh Mohammed said his country had been subjected to a “hostile campaign” of editorials in U.S. media in the run-up to Trump’s visit that claimed Doha turned a blind eye to citizens sending funds to al Qaeda and Islamic State.

“It is clear that there is a media campaign targeting Qatar and we will confront it, God willing,” Sheikh Mohammed said, citing 15 such article in U.S. media in the past five weeks.

The latest spat has echoes of a dispute in 2014 when Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Doha to protest against Qatari support for the Muslim Brotherhood, a group which some Gulf ruling families view as an existential threat to their absolute rule.

Reporting by Tom Finn, Writing by Sami Aboudi, Editing by William Maclean and Gareth Jones

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