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US pressures Saudi Arabia to end three-year Qatar blockade due to Iran 'airspace benefits': report Open in fullscreen

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US pressures Saudi Arabia to end three-year Qatar blockade due to Iran 'airspace benefits': report

Qatar Airways flights are forced to fly through Iranian airspace due to the blockade [Getty]

Date of publication: 4 June, 2020

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The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt launched a blockade on Qatar in June 2017.
The US is applying new pressure on Saudi Arabia to a three-year blockade on Qatar, due to Gulf airspace restrictions enacted by the measure allegedly providing a vital source of income for embargoed Iran.

US President Donald Trump made a series of calls to the Saudi leadership - King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman - this spring, urging them to end the blockade on Qatar, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The crisis has led to deep divisions in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), although Qatar recently denied reports it was planning to leave the bloc.

The blockade is said to benefit arch-regional rival Tehran - which is under US sanctions - due to flights in-and-out of Doha having to pass through Iranian airspace due to air restrictions by Qatar's neighbours.

This is providing the cash-strapped Iranian government with a vital source of revenue from "overfly fees", according to US officials.

"There is a greater sense of urgency to resolve the airspace issue," one US official told the WSJ.

"It's an ongoing irritation for us that money goes into Iran's coffers due to Qatar Airways overflights."

The US is also concerned that American military personnel based in Qatar have to take flights which pass through Iranian airspace.

Trump first appealed to the Gulf states to end the blockade on Qatar following the killing of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani in a US drone strike in Baghdad.

The killing led to retaliatory Iranian missile strikes on US bases in Iraq, and threatened a wider regional conflict between the two sides.

Efforts to end the blockade have ended in failure, Qatar's foreign minister recently commented, while Saudi Arabia and the UAE have recently ramped up "fake news" propaganda attacks against Doha.

"Qatar only wants one thing: open sky, to be able to fly over," the source told the newspaper.

"But if the Saudis give up flyover, there is nothing else Qatar wants. It is the Saudis' only leverage."
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt launched a blockade on Qatar on 5 June 2017, accusing it of "supporting terrorism" - claims that Doha strongly denies.

Under Trump, the US has pulled out of a nuclear deal with Iran and enacted crippling "maximum pressure" sanctions on Tehran in a bid to starve it of revenues.

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