The United States has been intensifying efforts to resolve the diplomatic dispute between Qatar and its neighbours by pressing Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to stop their ban on Qatari airlines using their airspace.
President Donald Trump has pressured the Saudi leadership to end the restrictions, which often force Qatari aircraft to use Iranian airspace as their only corridor out of the region.
The efforts included calls with Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE Bahrain and Egypt severed political, trade and transport ties with Qatar on June 5, 2017.
While the diplomatic dispute has complicated the US Middle East strategy, the Trump administration is particularly concerned about the overfly fees that Qatar pays to Iran to use the airspace.
“There is a greater sense of urgency to resolve the airspace issue.
“It’s an ongoing irritation for us that money goes into Iran’s coffers due to Qatar Airways overflights,” said one US official.
Also of concern is the fact that many members of the US military regularly take commercial flights from Qatar, which fly over Iranian airspace, when going to and from Al Udeid Air Base, the largest US base in the region.
The US has since reimposed crippling economic sanctions against Iran as part of a “maximum pressure” campaign.
The US assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in Iraq at the beginning of the year further escalated the enmity.
It was reported that Saudi officials see the airspace issue as their strongest negotiating point, and are loath to relent.
“Qatar only wants one thing: open sky, to be able to fly over,”
“But if the Saudis give up flyover, there is nothing else Qatar wants. It is the Saudis’ only leverage,” said the report.
Qatar, meanwhile, has brought the issue to the United Nations in a series of cases that could force the blockading nations to pay large fines for isolating it.
Qatari officials have signalled they would drop the cases if the issue were resolved.