Dubai: Saudi Arabia will open its airspace and land border with Qatar this week to end a year-long diplomatic crisis that deeply divided nations, frayed social ties and tore apart a traditionally club-based alliance of the Gulf States.
Qatar’s only land border has been largely closed since mid-2017 when Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain launched a blockade against the tiny Gulf state, accusing it of supporting Islamist extremist groups and maintaining ties with Iran. The Saudi border, which Qatar relied on to import dairy products, building materials and other goods, has been briefly opened over the past three years to allow Qatari residents to undertake the Islamic Hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.
A Qatari flag flies in front of a banner depicting the Saudi King Salman in Riyadh ahead of the Gulf Summit this week. Credit: AP
It was unclear what concessions Qatar had made or promised to change its policy.
Kuwait, which mediated throughout the dispute, was the first to announce the diplomatic breakthrough by its foreign minister.
While the Saudi decision represents an important milestone in solving the golf spar, the path to full reconciliation is anything but guaranteed.
Following Kuwait’s announcement, United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash tweeted that his country was interested in restoring the unity of the Gulf. However, he warned: “We have more work to do and are on the right track. ”
The lifting of the embargo by Saudi Arabia paves the way for Qatar’s rulers to attend an annual golf leaders’ summit held in the kingdom’s ancient desert site, Al-Ula.
Qatari state media confirmed that Sheikh Tamim would attend the summit, a move that analysts say would have been sensitive for him domestically if the Saudi blockade had still been in place.
That year, the Egyptian President was also invited to the summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council with six nations that include Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar.
The decision to end the Saudi embargo comes just weeks after President Donald Trump’s advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner visited the Kingdom and Qatar for a diplomatic breakthrough.
The Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, right, meets with the U.’s Senior Advisor. . S.. . President Jared Kushner in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday Sept.. . 1, 2020. Photo credit: Saudi Press Agency
It also comes close to the inauguration of President-Elect Joe Biden. Saudi Arabia may seek both to grant the Trump administration an ultimate diplomatic victory and to remove stumbling blocks to build ties with the Biden administration.
The focus is on concerns that Qatar’s close ties with Turkey and Iran have undermined regional security. Egypt and the United Arab Emirates view Qatar and Turkey’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood as a threat and view the group as a terrorist organization. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are primarily concerned with Qatar’s close ties with regional enemy Iran.
These simmering tensions boiled up in the summer of 2017 when the four countries announced their blockade against Qatar, cutting off all transport and diplomatic ties. The move disrupted social ties and separated families married to Qataris. It also brought Qatar closer diplomatically to Turkey and Iran, both of which rushed to aid Doha with food and medical supplies that were in short supply during the first days of the embargo.
Gas-rich Qatar was also hit economically by the blockade, and its national airline had to travel longer and more expensive routes. It was unclear how the blockade would affect the hosting of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
The blockade countries issued a list of demands on Qatar, including the closure of its flagship news network, Al Jazeera, and the end of the Turkish military presence in Qatar, which is also home to a large US military base. Qatar has totally denied the demands, denying that support for Islamist groups indicates support for violent extremists.
Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Gulf Cooperation Council, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Persian Gulf
World news – AU – Saudi Arabia opens borders to Qatar and ends bitter Gulf dispute
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