Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund has for the first time said it would vote against the $70bn merger of Glencore and Xstrata but stopped short of reiterating its demand for 3.25 shares in the commodities trader for each of the miner.

Qatar Holding, which in June said that Glencore could not count on its support below that 3.25 ratio, said it would vote against the current deal next week, clarifying its intentions so it could continue buying Xstrata shares.

But in not reiterating its target valuation, Qatar seemingly opened the door to negotiations with Glencore, which has stuck steadfastly to its offer of 2.8 shares for each in the miner, insisting it is “generous”.

Qatar added it “continues to support the principle of a combination of Glencore with Xstrata”.

Mark Kelly, of Olivetree Securities, said: “They are really saying: ‘We want the merger but at a better price than 2.8’. The lack of mention of 3.25 suggests to us Qatar could be willing to accept a lower price.”

However the fund, which holds more than 12 per cent of the miner, also emphasised that it liked its investment in Xstrata as an independent company.

“QH believes that Xstrata has a strong future, whether in combination with Glencore on acceptable terms or as a stand-alone entity, and that its shares represent an attractive long-term investment.”

One person close to the situation called the failure to repeat the 3.25 figure a “glaring omission” while others played down its significance. Another person said the proposed deal was “dead in the water”, with the impetus on Glencore to soften its stance to save the deal.

The Qatar fund’s unusual public intervention in the Glencore-Xstrata merger threatens to derail a deal that has been many years in the making and aims to reshape the natural resources sector by combining Xstrata’s production of copper, coal, zinc and nickel with Glencore’s marketing machine.

Its latest declaration sets up a final stand-off with Ivan Glasenberg, Glencore chief executive.

Mr Glasenberg, also Glencore’s largest shareholder, has been defiant in defending the merger terms, agreed in February. “If it does not happen – no big deal,” he said when announcing the trader’s results last week.

“I have no idea where that number comes from or how you justify that number,” Mr Glasenberg said, referring to the 3.25 ratio that the Qatar fund had said would reflect Xstrata’s long-term value. Glencore holds a 34 per cent stake in the miner but is prevented from voting next week.

People familiar with the matter said there had been limited contact between Glencore and Qatar Holding in recent weeks, with no meetings scheduled, suggesting that a last-ditch change of heart by Glencore is the only hope.

But other observers have questioned Mr Glasenberg’s suggestion that he could return to seal the deal in a year’s time, arguing that Qatar’s presence in the shareholder register would complicate his efforts finally to unite the two companies.

Either way, Glencore is unlikely to call a halt to the deal before next Friday’s vote, having agreed to pay a £298m fee to Xstrata should it back out of the merger.

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