Skip to main content

Saudi coalition scrambles to sooth US firms over Qatar boycott

Four Arab states write to US government to say no American companies will be punished for working with Qatar
The UAE's foreign minister, Anwar Gargash, in Dubai on 24 June (AFP)

Four Arab countries that imposed sanctions on Qatar have told the United States that US companies doing business with them would not be punished for also working with Doha, four sources with knowledge of the matter said.

Foreign firms have become increasingly cautious on their cross border dealings over concerns they could fall foul of the region's biggest diplomatic crisis in years.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain sent a letter to the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, in July reassuring him that US companies would not be discriminated against as part of the boycott, according to sources with knowledge of the letter.

The EU has been given similar "official ... verbal assurances" by the UAE, the EU delegation to the UAE told the Reuters news agency.

In the letter to Tillerson, the four countries said that they valued and intended to maintain their relationships with US companies and that those ties would not be affected by the boycott, according to a source who has seen the letter.

The US embassy in Abu Dhabi declined to comment on the letter. The four Arab states did not immediately respond to Reuters questions on the letter.

Tillerson made a four-day visit to the region in July where he met both sides of the dispute and made proposals to help end the crisis.

The four Arab countries cut diplomatic and trade links with Qatar on 5 June, suspending air and shipping routes with the world's biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas and the home to the region's biggest US military base.

Big contracts to be won

The UAE's foreign minister, Anwar Gargash, said on 17 July that the UAE would not ask foreign companies to choose between doing business with it or Qatar.

That followed comments from the UAE ambassador to Russia, Omar Ghobash, to the Guardian newspaper on 28 June that companies could be made to choose as part of a new round of sanctions on Qatar.

Top US companies have large investments in countries on both sides of the dispute and there are big contracts to be won in wealthy Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar.

Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter, signed business deals worth tens of billions of dollars with US companies during Donald Trump's visit to Riyadh in May.

State-owned airlines in the UAE and Qatar are leading customers of US planemaker Boeing, and Doha, which will host the 2022 World Cup, is seeking partners to take part in a huge expansion of its gas production.

Some companies have taken steps to restructure their Middle East operations so that Qatar no longer reports to their regional headquarters, often located in Dubai, in a bid to avoid any conflict.

One of the sources said that there have been no known incidents of a US company being discriminated against by the four Arab countries because of the dispute with Qatar.