Gulf Arab leaders have signed an agreement on “solidarity and stability” at a summit aimed at ending an embargo against Qatar by its neighbors.
However, the contents of the document were not immediately revealed.
Earlier in the day, Qatar’s ruling emir arrived in Saudi Arabia for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit and was greeted with an embrace by the kingdom’s crown prince on Tuesday.
This came a day after Saudi Arabia reopened its airspace and borders to Qatar and an announcement that the Saudi kingdom would end its yearslong embargo on the tiny Gulf Arab state.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with the oil-rich state in 2017, accusing Qatar of supporting terrorism.
But Qatar denied the accusation and rejected the conditions for ending the partial blockade, including closing the Doha-based Al Jazeera broadcast network.
In recent months, Kuwaiti and US mediators had stepped up efforts to end the stand-off between the Gulf countries.
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.
The Qatari emir’s arrival at Al-Ula was broadcast live on Saudi state TV while the media in Qatar hailed the “warm” embrace ahead of the “landmark” summit.
“These efforts helped us reach the agreement of the al-Ula statement that will be signed at this summit, where we affirm our Gulf, Arab and Islamic solidarity and stability,” Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) said in an opening speech.
“There is a desperate need today to unite our efforts to promote our region and to confront challenges that surround us, especially the threats posed by the Iranian regime’s nuclear and ballistic missile program and its plans for sabotage and destruction,” he added.
Earlier, Kuwait’s foreign minister said in a statement carried on state TV that Kuwait’s ruler had spoken with Qatar’s emir and Saudi Arabia’s crown prince.
The conversations “emphasized that everyone was keen on reunification,” and would gather in Al-Ula to sign a statement that promises to “usher in a bright page of brotherly relations.”
The summit will be “inclusive,” leading the states toward “reunification and solidarity in facing the challenges of our region,” Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was quoted as saying in remarks carried by the Saudi state-run news agency.
The decision to end the Saudi embargo came just weeks after President Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, visited Saudi Arabia and Qatar in a final push to secure a diplomatic breakthrough. It also comes just ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s swearing in.
Analysts say the kingdom may be seeking to give the Trump administration a final diplomatic victory as well as remove stumbling blocks to building warm relations with the Biden administration, which is expected to take a firmer stance toward the KSA.
Qatar Blockade A Costly Affair
The three-and-a-half-year blockade against Qatar by its neighbors has been immensely costly to both Qatar’s economy and Gulf unity.
The embargo also proved politically counterproductive by the Saudi-led bloc as it pushed Qatar closer to their ideological rivals – Turkey and Iran.
Beyond the diplomatic rhetoric and optics, the UAE still has grave doubts that Qatar would change its ways.
Qataris are also unlikely to easily forget what they see as a stab in the back by their Arab neighbors.
What was the dispute about?
Qatar has long pursued an ambitious foreign policy with different priorities to most other Gulf states, but two key issues particularly angered its neighbours.
One is Qatar’s support for certain Islamists groups, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood – which has been branded a terrorist organization by some Gulf states, primarily because of political reasons.
Qatar acknowledges providing assistance to the Muslim Brotherhood and a few other Islamist groups having no track record of terrorism but it denies aiding groups with a proven terrorism record like al-Qaeda or Islamic State (IS).
The other key issue is Qatar’s ties with Iran, with which it shares the world’s largest gas field. The Shia Muslim power, Tehran is the main regional rival of Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia.