The Arab nations involved in a tense dispute with Qatar on Monday extended the deadline for the small Gulf country to respond to a list of demands they say are required to restore normal diplomatic relations.
The Arab coalition, which includes Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, is giving Qatari officials another 48 hours to formally respond to the demands. The extension was granted as the request of Kuwait’s 88-year-old ruler, Sheikh Sabah Al Sabah, who has sought to find a peaceful solution to the diplomatic crisis.
Qatar’s foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, will reportedly deliver a handwritten response to the list of demands to Kuwait. The coalition said it would meet in Cairo, Egypt on Wednesday to determine its next steps after viewing Qatar’s response.
"The response of the four states will then be sent following the study of the Qatari government's response and assessment of its response to the whole demands," the countries said in a statement.
The crisis began June 5, as the countries cut off diplomatic ties to Qatar over their allegations that the world's top producer of liquefied natural gas uses it wealth to fund extremist groups and has overly warm ties to Iran. Qatar long has denied funding terrorists, while it maintains communication with Iran as the two countries share a massive offshore natural gas field.
The quartet of countries first restricted Qatar's access to their airspace and ports, while sealing its only land border, which it shares with Saudi Arabia. They later issued a 13-point list of demands on June 22 to end the standoff and gave Qatar 10 days to comply.
Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump spoke with Sheikh Tamim, as well as King Salman of Saudi Arabia and Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of the Emirati capital, Abu Dhabi.
The White House said Trump urged unity and reiterated the importance of stopping terrorist financing and discrediting extremist ideology. A separate statement carried on the official Qatar News Agency said the emir's discussion with Trump touched on the need to fight terrorism and extremism in all its forms and sources, and was a chance for the countries to review their bilateral strategic relations.
Trump later tweeted: "Spoke yesterday with the King of Saudi Arabia about peace in the Middle-East. Interesting things are happening!"
Qatar, like the countries lined up against it, is a U.S. ally. It hosts some 10,000 American troops at the sprawling al-Udeid Air Base. The desert facility is home to the forward headquarters of the U.S. Central Command and has been a key staging ground for the campaign against the Islamic State group and the war in Afghanistan.
What comes next remains in question. If Qatar doesn't agree to the demands, the nations could push forward with financial sanctions or pushing the country out of the Gulf Cooperation Council, a regional body that serves as a counterbalance to Iran. Some Arab media outlets have gone as far as suggesting a military confrontation or new leadership be installed in Qatar.
On Wednesday, the four countries will meet in Cairo to discuss "future steps in dealing with Qatar as well as exchange of points of view and the evaluation of the existing international and regional contacts in this connection," Egypt's Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said.
Meanwhile, Qatari officials have said they won't back down either. Al-Jazeera, the satellite news network funded by Qatar that the countries demand be shut down, issued a video message saying: "We too have demands. ... We demand press freedom."
"Qatar is not an easy country to be swallowed by anyone," Qatari Defense Minister Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah told Sky News on Sunday. "We are ready. We stand ready to defend our country. I hope that we don't come to a stage where, you know, a military intervention is made."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.