Breakthrough reached in Saudi-Qatar dispute

Published January 5, 2021
In this 2019 file photo, a Qatari flag flies in front of a banner showing Saudi King Salman with Arabic writing that reads, “We pledge you to listen and obey” at a trade center in Riyadh. —  AP
In this 2019 file photo, a Qatari flag flies in front of a banner showing Saudi King Salman with Arabic writing that reads, “We pledge you to listen and obey” at a trade center in Riyadh. — AP

WASHINGTON: A breakthrough has been reached in Qatar’s three-year-old dispute with Saudi Arabia and three other Arab countries and an agreement aimed at ending their rift is to be signed in Saudi Arabia today (Tuesday), a Trump administration official said.

The development 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.

As part of the deal, Saudi Arabia will reopen its airspace and land and sea border to Qatar, Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Ahmad Nasser al Sabah said on Kuwait TV ahead of a Gulf Arab summit in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.

Saudi state agency SPA quoted Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as saying the annual gathering of Gulf leaders would unite Gulf ranks “in the face of challenges facing the region”.

Agreement to be signed at summit today

Qatar’s ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani, will attend, the royal court said. The US official said the Saudi crown prince and the Qatari emir would sign the deal.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt have imposed a diplomatic, trade and travel embargo on Qatar since mid-2017 accusing it of supporting terrorism. Qatar denies it and says the embargo aims to undermine its sovereignty.

While Saudi Arabia made clear it intended to lift the blockade, the other three countries did not, but the Trump official said “it’s our expectation” they would also join in lifting the blockade. Under the emerging agreement, Qatar will suspend lawsuits related to the blockade, the official said.

All of the countries involved in the deals 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.

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, assigned to work on the dispute by President Donald Trump, helped negotiate the deal and was working the phones on it until the wee hours of Monday morning, the official said.

When Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said last month a resolution to the dispute seemed within reach, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a Twitter post he hoped Gulf reconciliation contributes to stability and political and economic development for all peoples of our region.

Kushner, joined by Middle East envoy Avi Berkowitz and Brian Hook, a special State Department adviser, would fly to the Saudi Arabian city of Al Ula to attend the ceremony, the US official said.

If the deal holds, the Gulf dispute will be added to a string of diplomatic achievements of the Kushner team, a list that includes normalisation deals last year between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.

Published in Dawn, January 5th, 2021

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