Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani

DOHA: Qatar's foreign minister has voiced optimism over ending a bitter rift with Riyadh, saying early talks broke a "stalemate" but stressed Doha's unwillingness to downgrade ties with Turkey as a pre-condition. Saudi Arabia along with its allies the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut all diplomatic and transport ties with Qatar in June 2017. The four nations accused Doha of backing radical Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood, and seeking closer ties with Saudi arch rival Tehran - allegations Qatar vehemently denies.

"There (is) some progress… We have broken the stalemate of non-communication to starting communication with the Saudis," Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani told CNN in an interview broadcast on Sunday. "Honestly, from our perspective in Qatar, we want to understand the grievances. We want to study them and to assess them and to look at the solutions that can safeguard us in the future from any other potential crisis."

The Saudi-led bloc made 13 key demands to resolve the dispute, including shutting down broadcaster Al Jazeera, downgrading ties with Iran and closing a Turkish military base on its territory. But the UAE has sought to downplay the emerging reconciliation effort. "The recent Qatari leaks regarding resolving Doha's crisis with Saudi Arabia, without the three other countries, are a repetition of Doha's quest to divide ranks and evade commitments," Abu Dhabi's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash wrote on Twitter at the weekend.

Several diplomats and analysts have suggested to AFP that Saudi Arabia could embrace a rapprochement with Doha while the UAE keeps its distance, a position echoed by sources briefed on the nascent talks. Responding to the charges of Gulf boycott countries, Qatar's foreign minister denied Doha had direct ties with the Brotherhood, branded by several countries - including Saudi Arabia - as a terrorist organization.

He added that Qatar was unwilling to alter its relationship with Turkey, which he said helped Doha weather the two-and-a-half-year crisis. "Any country that opened up for us and helped us during our crisis, we will remain grateful (to) them… we will never turn our back (on) them," he said. Last week, Qatar's amir skipped a Gulf summit in the Saudi capital billed as a potential "reconciliation conference", but leaders' calls for integration offered signs of a thaw between Doha and Riyadh.

In a sign of the changing mood, the Doha delegation led by Qatar's prime minister received a warm welcome in Riyadh. Recent "sports diplomacy", which saw football teams from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain travel to Qatar for the Gulf Cup, has raised hopes of a thaw. They travelled to Doha despite earlier indications that they would boycott the tournament. The rift has seen the two sides trade barbs on everything from access to the holy city of Makkah to alleged Twitter hacking. It has also seen families divided, while Qatari businesses face increased costs as well as complicated regional travel. - AFP