dpa/GNA – Gulf leaders were meeting Tuesday in Saudi Arabia for their annual summit, a day after a major breakthrough was achieved in the years-long dispute between a Saudi-led bloc and Qatar.
Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani arrived in the city of Al-Ula in north-western Saudi Arabia, the site of the summit.
He was warmly welcomed by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Wearing face masks, the two hugged each other.
The two are expected to sign a formal agreement to end the rift between the two countries. The meeting will be chaired by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman.
In 2017, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and non-Gulf country Egypt severed diplomatic, trade and travel ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting Islamist militant groups, an accusation that Doha denies.
Tamim’s decision to lead his country’s delegation to the meeting came after Monday’s announcement that Saudi Arabia had agreed to open air, sea and land borders with Qatar starting that same day, marking a giant step forward towards ending the crisis.
On Monday, Kuwait’s Foreign Minister Ahmad Nasser Al Sabah said that Riyadh and Doha will sign a summit statement, which “hopefully will launch a new bright page of brotherly relations.”
It is not clear if the three other boycotting countries – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt – will join Saudi Arabia in ending the three-year blockade against Qatar.
However, Kuwaiti Emir Nawaf al-Ahmad Al Sabah said on Monday that he was confident other GCC leaders and Egypt are keen to make the summit an occasion for “reconciliation that boosts unity,” according to the official KUNA news agency.
Nawaf, whose country and the United States have been mediating a solution to the row, departed Kuwait on Tuesday to chair his country’s delegation to the summit.
UAE’s prime minister and Dubai ruler Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Oman’s deputy prime minister, Egypt’s foreign minister, and Bahrain’s crown prince were also in al-Ula.
On the timing of the Saudi-Qatar reconciliation, Samuel Ramani, a non-resident fellow at the Gulf International Forum, told dpa that Saudi Arabia’s decision to end the blockade is driven by its concerns about President-elect Joe Biden’s approach to US-Saudi relations.
President Donald Trump’s administration has a close relationship with the deeply conservative kingdom, seeing Saudi Arabia as key to checking Iran’s influence in region.
In the process, the Trump administration has largely overlooked Riyadh’s human rights record, including the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and its role in Yemen’s war.
Biden, on the other hand, has pledged to “reassess our relationship with the kingdom, end US support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, and make sure America does not check its values at the door to sell arms or buy oil.”
“Biden views Mohammed bin Salman as a destabilizing force in the region and Saudi Arabia is desperate to shed this negative image,” Ramani said. “Ending the blockade against Qatar suggests that Saudi Arabia is interested in contributing to regional stability.”
He added that Egypt could follow Riyadh’s lead. However, the UAE and Bahrain are much less likely to normalize ties with Qatar in the near future.
He said that a long list of demands issued by Saudi Arabia to Qatar from 2017 is now largely obsolete.
Qatar might make minor concessions such as cooperation on reining in destabilising Iranian conduct or urging its media outlets to be less critical of the blockading countries, Ramani said.
The dispute is one of the most serious experienced by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) since it was created in 1981. The US-allied bloc comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE.
UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash in a tweet on Monday described the summit as historic and as a vehicle through which Gulf unity will be restored.
“We will be keen that the security, stability and prosperity of our countries and peoples are the first priority,” Gargash said.
Late on Monday, Turkey welcomed the Saudi decision for the reopening of the land, air and sea borders with Qatar.
“This development constitutes an important step towards the resolution of the persisting conflict in the Gulf since June 2017,” Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.