Saudi, Qatari Leaders Hug Ahead of GCC Summit Focused on Gulf Detente

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Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia welcomes Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani upon his arrival to attend the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) 41st Summit in Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia on Tuesday. — Photo courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via Reuters

Saudi, Qatar reopen land, air and sea borders between the countries, in a breakthrough agreement aimed at ending the three-year diplomatic dispute with Doha, announced Kuwait

AL-ULA, SAUDI ARABIA — Gulf Arab leaders arrived in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday for a summit focused on ending a long-running dispute with Qatar which shattered Gulf unity at a time of heightened regional tensions with Iran.

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani was met in the historic city of al-Ula by de facto Saudi ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The two men, wearing face masks, embraced on the tarmac.

Ahead of the gathering, Kuwait announced that Saudi Arabia, which along with allies boycotted Doha in mid-2017, would reopen its airspace and borders to Qatar under a deal that a senior US official said would be signed in the presence of White House senior adviser Jared Kushner.

“The Kuwaiti emir made a phone call with the Qatari Emir and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, who both confirmed their intention to start a new beginning in their relations,” Xinhua news agency quoted Kuwait’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Saba as saying in a televised address on Monday evening.

“Based on a suggestion from the Kuwaiti Emir, the two countries have agreed to reopen the land, air, and sea borders between the two countries as of today’s evening,” said Kuwaiti minister.

Other Gulf leaders arrived earlier and a source said Egypt’s foreign minister would attend the annual summit, postponed from its December date as Riyadh worked for a deal.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic, trade and travel ties with Qatar over allegations Doha supports terrorism, a charge it denies.

The breakthrough is the latest in a series of Middle East deals sought by Washington – the others involving Israel and Arab states – aimed at building a united front against Iran.

While Riyadh made clear it intended to lift the embargo, the other three states did not immediately comment on the issue. But the US official said “it’s our expectation” they would also join. Under the emerging deal, Qatar will suspend lawsuits related to the boycott, the official said.

Diplomats and analysts say Saudi Arabia was pushing reluctant allies for the deal to show US President-elect Joe Biden that Riyadh is open to dialogue. Biden has vowed to take a harder line with the kingdom over its human rights record and the Yemen war.

“Despite the purported rapprochement between Gulf parties, it is worth noting that this is seemingly influenced by a desire to pre-empt pressure from an incoming Biden administration, more than a genuine commitment to conflict resolution,” said Emadeddin Badi, nonresident senior fellow at Atlantic Council.

“As such, the détente within the GCC is very unlikely to significantly affect geopolitical dynamics beyond the Gulf.”

The UAE and Egypt are at cross purposes with Qatar in Libya and over the Muslim Brotherhood.

All of the states are US allies. Qatar hosts the region’s largest US military base, Bahrain is home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, and Saudi Arabia and the UAE host US troops.

Qatar says the boycott aims to curb its sovereignty.

The other countries had set Doha 13 demands, including closing Al Jazeera TV, shuttering a Turkish base, cutting links to the Muslim Brotherhood and downgrading ties with Iran.

Earlier, in a statement on Monday, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia said the GCC summit, which will be chaired by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, would be a comprehensive and “inclusive” summit, one that led members to “reunification”, that reinforced the path toward prosperity and one of solidarity in the face of challenges that the Middle East region is facing, reports Arab News.

He also said it would be a summit which would work toward achieving the aspirations of King Salman and his brothers, the leaders of the GCC states. — Agencies

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