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White house postpones Trump’s summit with GCC leaders

The Trump administration is postponing until September a summit with Gulf Arab leaders that had been planned for this spring amid an ongoing dispute between Qatar and other US allies in the region, according to five US officials.

The decision to delay the May summit with the six-nation Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) reflects a crowded diplomatic calendar, and the fact that President Donald Trump is without a secretary of state until the Senate confirms current CIA Director Mike Pompeo, two of the officials said.

Other sources, however, told Reuters the delay is also a nod to the fact that Washington has made little progress so far in ending the standoff between Qatar and other Gulf nations, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The dispute pits key US allies against each other. It has not affected the US air base in Qatar that supports attacks on Islamic extremists.

“This was entirely our decision,” one US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said of the delay.

“We have too many irons in the fire in May,” the official added, noting that Trump may be meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong-un next month, and that Pompeo has yet to be confirmed to replace Rex Tillerson.

A spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council said the delay was not tied to the tensions over Qatar, adding that, “President Trump is committed to resolving the Gulf dispute this month.”

Trump met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman at the White House on March 21. He is due to meet with Qatar’s Emir His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani next week, followed by a meeting with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed.

Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut off travel and trade ties with Qatar last June, accusing it of backing Iran, and supporting terrorism. Qatar denies the charges and says the boycott is an attempt to impinge on its sovereignty and rein in its support for reform.

A senior US official said the summit was discussed during Salman’s Washington visit, and there was agreement that it would be better to delay the meeting until after the holy month of Ramadan, which ends in mid-June.

“I think it makes sense (to delay the summit) as there seems to be movement on the beginning of a dialogue and more time to let it develop would be helpful,” one said.

Published on 4 April 2018