*A meeting could take place later this year at Camp David
The Trump administration is moving towards hosting a summit with a bloc of six Arab nations later this year, but first wants to see signs of progress in ending a standoff between US allies in the Gulf, a person familiar with the matter said.
Planning for a meeting with the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) has been held up over concern that the conflict between Qatar and its neighbours led by Saudi Arabia may only be prolonged if the US lets the summit proceed without movement towards a resolution, according to the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The White House is considering Camp David as a possible venue and the summit subject to some positive development in the form of a keen desire among the countries blockading Qatar to end the dispute. Though Qatar has repeatedly asked for a dialogue to discuss the matter, the Saudi-led bloc has spurned the offer and refused to negotiate the crisis and find an amicable solution to the parties.
Trump had offered to host a meeting of GCC leaders at Camp David last year but the proposal was not heeded by the countries that have launched a blockade of Qatar.
The proposed meeting later this year would follow a summit last May in Riyadh, where President Donald Trump met with GCC leaders from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Bahrain, and called for concerted Gulf action to combat terrorism.
The following month, four of the countries severed diplomatic and transport links with Qatar, accusing it of backing Islamist groups and cozying up to Iran - claims Doha has repeatedly denied. Saudi Arabia also closed Qatar’s only land border.
While Trump initially said Qatar was supporting militants, he has moderated his tone as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has sought to mediate the standoff. In a call last month, Trump thanked His Highness the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani for “action to counter terrorism and extremism in all forms.”
According to a readout of the call released by White House, the two leaders discussed ways to strengthen US-Qatar bilateral relations on security and economic issues and the American president reiterated his support for a unified GCC.
“President Trump reiterated his support for a strong, united Gulf Co-operation Council that is focused on countering regional threats. The president thanked the Emir for Qatari action to counter terrorism and extremism in all forms, including being one of the few countries to move forward on a bilateral memorandum of understanding. The leaders discussed areas in which the US and Qatar can partner to bring more stability to the region, counter Iranian influence, and defeat terrorism,” the statement added.
The Middle East has been a key foreign policy issue for the Trump administration. The White House has backed Saudi Arabia's “anti-corruption” campaign, which has ensnared top princes and billionaires once seen as US allies, it has provided support for the Saudis in their war in Yemen and it has been muted in criticism of the crisis sparked when Lebanon’s prime minister briefly resigned last year while in Saudi Arabia.
A GCC meeting held in Kuwait in December was overshadowed by the regional rift. It could not make any headway in solving the Gulf crisis that has now entered the ninth month.
The Saudi-led bloc has demanded that Qatar agree to a 13-point list of demands that included shutting down Al Jazeera television, refraining from backing Islamist groups and scaling back relations with Tehran.