Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Photo: Reuters
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Photo: Reuters

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov told Qatar on Saturday of its concern over Arab nations cutting ties with the Gulf state and called for talks to solve the crisis.

“As a matter of policy, we do not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries or their bilateral relations with each other. But it does not give us joy when relations between our partners deteriorate,” Lavrov told Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani at talks in Moscow.

The Arab world’s biggest powers, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates, severed diplomatic relations with Qatar on Monday, accusing it of support for Islamist militants and Iran.

Lavrov said Moscow was ready to act “with the consent and the interest of the parties involved” to help resolve the diplomatic row.

“We call for all contradictions to be resolved at the negotiation table through a mutually respectful dialogue,” Lavrov said, adding Arab states should unite to effectively fight terrorism.

Sheikh Mohammed said Qatar was committed to solving the issue via a dialogue and that he considered the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf as the most appropriate format for such talks.

On Friday, US President Donald Trump accused Qatar’s leadership of bankrolling extremists and demanded a halt to that funding, as a diplomatic stand-off between the Gulf emirate and its neighbors escalated.

Trump’s stern warning overshadowed an earlier declaration from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – who had also urged Saudi Arabia and its allies to ease their land and sea “blockade” of Qatar.

But US officials insisted that both men were sending the same message that the countries of the region should not allow their differences to hinder the fight against extremism.

The gas-rich emirate is home to the largest US airbase in the Middle East, making it a key ally in the US-led coalition against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

But it has fallen out with its Arab neighbors, who accuse it of sponsoring extremist groups, some of them allegedly linked to arch Saudi foe Iran, fomenting trouble across the region.

The neighbors also resent Qatar’s ties to the Muslim Brotherhood movement and its sponsorship of the pan-Arab satellite television network Al-Jazeera, which has given opposition figures a platform.

Qatar has denounced the allegations of terror funding as baseless and has received the support of its close ally Turkey, which has approved the deployment of troops to defend the emirate.

Having apparently been caught on the hop by the speed with which the dispute has spiraled – despite meeting all of the leaders concerned in Riyadh last month – Trump has asked Tillerson to mediate.

The US president’s rhetoric on Friday, however, did not appear likely to calm spirits in Doha.

“The nation of Qatar, unfortunately, has historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level,” Trump told reporters in the White House Rose Garden, as Tillerson looked on.

“They have to end that funding and its extremist ideology in terms of funding,” he said, lumping Qatar with other nations that he said must “stop teaching people to kill other people.”

Less than two hours earlier, Tillerson had approached the crisis from a different direction – warning that the stand-off between the former Gulf allies was undermining the anti-terror fight.

He did urge Qatar to be “responsive to the concerns of its neighbors” and immediately crack down on extremist funding.

“The emir of Qatar has made progress in halting financial support and expelling terrorists from his country, but he must do more and he must do it more quickly,” he said.

But he also warned that the response – Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates cut diplomatic ties on Monday and are trying to blockade Qatar by air and sea – could be counterproductive.

“The blockade is hindering US military actions in the region and the campaign against ISIS,” Tillerson warned.