Gulf crisis threatens Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup

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Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries severed ties to Qatar on Monday and moved to cut off land, sea and air routes to the energy-rich nation that is home to a major USA military base, accusing it of supporting regional terror groups.

Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen and the Maldives joined Saudi Arabia and Egypt in severing relations with gas-rich Qatar, with Riyadh accusing Doha of supporting groups, including some backed by Iran, "that aim to destabilise the region".

US officials were blindsided by Saudi Arabia's decision to sever diplomatic ties with Qatar in a coordinated move with Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, the current and former officials said. Meanwhile, the three Gulf states ordered Qatari visitors to leave within two weeks.

Food security is a major issue for Qatar given the only way into the country by land is a single border with Saudi Arabia and desert states struggle to grow food. Following this, several of West Asia's biggest airlines suspended all flights to Qatar's capital Doha.

Four Arab nations cut diplomatic ties to Qatar early today morning, further deepening a rift among Gulf Arab nations over that country's support for Islamist groups and its relations with Iran. Qatar's ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, visited Sheikh Sabah last week.

Saudi Arabia said the decision to cut diplomatic ties was due to Qatar's "embrace of various terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at destabilizing the region", including the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaida, the Islamic State group and militants supported by Iran in the kingdom's restive Eastern Province.

Qatar's emir, believed to be just 37 years old, could retaliate by withdrawing from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council and redraw alliances to snub Saudi Arabia's 31-year-old Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, who are believed to be the two main figures orchestrating the standoff.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said Monday that a diplomatic split between Qatar and four other Arab nations won't affect the war against the Islamic State and other US operations.

FIFA said in an emailed statement that it was "in regular contact with the Qatar 2022 Local Organising Committee and the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy handling matters relating to the 2022 FIFA World Cup". But it could try to force foreign companies to make a choice between doing business with Qatar and obtaining access to its own, much larger market, which it is opening up as part of economic reforms.

On Monday afternoon, a Pentagon spokesman said US military aircraft continue to conduct missions in support of ongoing operations in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

Kuwait appears to be trying to play a mediating role between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. "We are closely monitoring the situation", the airline tweeted.

Still, market participants will be watching to see if Qatar, a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, decides to disrupt the production cutback deal.

"The state of Qatar has been subjected to a campaign of lies that have reached the point of complete fabrication", the statement said, blaming "a hidden plan to undermine the state of Qatar".

Tensions had been building for years, beginning with Qatar's support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and through the broadcasts of the Pan-Arab news network Al-Jazeera, which Qatar funds. Qatar Airways was banned from Saudi airspace. Qatar denied the comments, saying it had been the victim of a "cybercrime".

Tillerson said that he did not expect the rift "to have any significant impact, if any impact at all, on the unified fight against terrorism" regionally or globally.

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