In their long-running rivalry, the United Arab Emirates has often accused its neighbor Qatar of abetting Islamist militants, citing as one prime example the 2013 opening of a Taliban embassy in the Qatari capital, Doha.
Now it turns out that the Emiratis tried to get the Taliban to open an embassy in their own country instead. The Emirati ambassador to Washington, Yousef al-Otaiba, even received "an angry phone call” from the foreign minister at the time complaining that the Taliban had ended up in Qatar and not the U.A.E., according to leaked emails from the ambassador’s account.
The leaks are the latest salvo in a two-month-old feud among the Persian Gulf neighbors that has divided Washington’s allies in the fights against the Islamic State and Iran. In June, the U.A.E., Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt cut off trade and diplomatic relations with Qatar as punishment for what they said was its support of Islamist extremism. Qatar, the site of the largest American air base in the region, charged that Saudi Arabia and the Emirates were inventing a pretext to bully their neighbor.
Qatar and the U.A.E. have been intense rivals for years, even though they are nominal allies — and both key military partners of Washington. During their recent rift, they have accused each other of meddling in each other’s internal affairs. Supporters of each side have accused the other of cyberespionage. Anonymous hackers have provided a long series of leaked emails from Ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba’s Hotmail account to The New York Times and other news organizations over the past two years in an apparent campaign to embarrass the U.A.E. and benefit Qatar.
Over the weekend, The Times obtained an email dated Sept. 12, 2011, in which an Emirati diplomat questioned the United States’ position on where the Taliban embassy should be located.
"There is an article in the London Times that mentions US is backing setting up a Taliban embassy in Doha,” the diplomat, Mohamed Mahmoud al-Khaja, wrote to Jeffrey Feltman, then Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs. He used the shorthand "HH,” presumably to refer to his boss, the foreign minister, His Highness Abdullah bin Zayed. "HH says that we were under the impression that Abu Dhabi was your first choice and this is what we were informed” by the United Nations envoy to Afghanistan, Mr. Khaja said.
In a separate email dated Jan. 28, 2012, Ambassador Otaiba himself wrote to another American official about similar complaints from Mr. bin Zayed, using a different shorthand, "ABZ.”
"I got an angry call from ABZ saying how come we weren’t told,” Mr. Otaiba wrote. "They want to be in the middle of everything those guys,” he added, referring to the Qataris. "So let them, it will eventually come back to bite them in the _____.”
Representatives of the Emirati Embassy in Washington did not respond to requests for comment. A State Department spokesman also declined to comment, referring questions to the United Arab Emirates.
Three former American officials, however, confirmed this week that the U.A.E. had initially sought the Taliban embassy.
American officials have regularly said that Qatar agreed to host the Taliban embassy as part of a broader American-led effort to facilitate peace talks in Afghanistan, not because of any support for the Taliban or their ideology. (The opening of a Qatar office of the Palestinian militant group Hamas was also arranged with American approval.)
The former American officials, recalling the negotiations over locating the Taliban embassy, said that both the U.A.E. and Qatar wanted to enlarge their status as players in international affairs, and that neither wanted its rival to have the chance to host the peace talks.
Once the decision was made to locate the embassy in Doha, however, Ambassador Otaiba repeatedly cited its presence in his list of grievances against Qatar — the first of which is its public alliance with the Islamist politicians of the Muslim Brotherhood across the region.
"I don’t think it is a coincidence that inside Doha you have the Hamas leadership, you have a Taliban embassy, you have the Muslim Brotherhood leadership,” Mr. Otaiba said in interview last week with the broadcaster Charlie Rose.
"Why they do that, we don’t have an answer,” Mr. Otaiba added, but "we seem to be at odds with a very core belief of what we want the region to be.”