Dubai: Saudi Arabia will open its airspace and land border to Qatar this week in the first step toward ending a years-long diplomatic crisis that deeply divided the nations, frayed societal ties and tore apart a traditionally clubby alliance of Gulf states.
Qatar's only land border has been mostly 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 of having ties with Iran. The Saudi border, which Qatar relied on for the import of dairy products, construction materials and other goods, opened briefly during the past three years to allow Qataris into Saudi Arabia to perform the Islamic hajj pilgrimage.
A Qatari flag flies in front of a banner portraying Saudi King Salman, in Riyadh, ahead of the Gulf states summit this week. Credit:AP
It was unclear what concessions Qatar had made or is promising to make regarding a shift in its policies.
Kuwait, which had been mediating throughout the dispute, was first to announce the diplomatic breakthrough through its foreign minister.
While the Saudi decision marks a major milestone toward resolving the Gulf spat, the path toward full reconciliation is far from guaranteed.
Following Kuwait's announcement, the UAE's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, tweeted that his country was keen to restore Gulf unity. However, he cautioned: “We have more work to do and we are in the right direction.”
The lifting of the embargo by Saudi Arabia paves the way for Qatar’s ruler to attend an annual summit of Gulf leaders held in the kingdom’s ancient desert site of Al-Ula.
State-run Qatari media confirmed Sheikh Tamim would be attending the summit, a move that analysts say would have been domestically sensitive for him had the Saudi blockade still been in place.
This year, Egypt’s president has also been invited to attend the summit of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, which comprises Saudi Arabia, the UAE, 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 in a final push by the administration to secure a diplomatic breakthrough.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, right, meets with Senior Advisor to the U.S. President, Jared Kushner in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020.Credit:Saudi Press Agency
It also comes just ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration. Saudi Arabia may be seeking to both grant the Trump administration a final diplomatic win and remove stumbling blocs to building ties with the Biden administration.
At heart are concerns that Qatar's close relations with Turkey and Iran have undermined regional security. Egypt and the UAE view Qatar and Turkey's support of the Muslim Brotherhood as a threat and have deemed the group a terrorist organisation. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are primarily concerned with Qatar's close ties with regional foe Iran.
Those simmering tensions came to a boil in the summer of 2017, when the four countries announced their blockade on Qatar and cut all transport and diplomatic links with it. The move frayed social ties, separating families who'd intermarried with Qataris. It also pushed Qatar diplomatically closer to Turkey and Iran, which both rushed to Doha's aid with food and medical supplies that had been in short supply in the first days of the embargo.
Gas-rich Qatar also took an economic hit from the blockade, and its national airline was forced to take longer and more costly routes. It was unclear how the blockade would impact its ability to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
The blockading countries made a list of demands on Qatar that included shuttering its flagship Al Jazeera news network and terminating Turkish military presence in Qatar, which is also home to a major US military base. Qatar has outright rejected the demands, and has denied that its support of Islamist groups indicates support for violent extremists.
Most Viewed in World
Source: Read Full Article