In a diplomatic breakthrough, Saudi Arabia is set to open its borders and airspace to neighboring Qatar following a prolonged crisis.
Saudi efforts to isolate Qatar were reportedly set to end on Monday, with Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Amhad Nasser Al Sabah announcing that Riyadh would be opening “the airspace and land and sea borders” between Saudi Arabia and Qatar “starting from this evening.”
The minister also said that the Kuwaiti emir spoke with his counterpart in Qatar and the Saudi crown prince. The talks between Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmad Al Sabah, Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman showed that “everyone was keen on reunification.”
The three leaders are to meet and sign a statement to “usher in a bright page of brotherly relations.”
The announcement comes ahead of a Gulf leaders’ summit in the desert city of Al-Ula on Tuesday.
What was the row about?
Tensions between the two neighbors spilt into the open in mid-2017, when Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic, trade, and travel ties with Qatar. The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt also joined the blockade. The four countries accused Doha of backing radical Islamist movements and cozying up to Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival Iran.
The bloc also set out 13 demands for Qatar, including closing the Al Jazeera news network and downgrading links with Iran.
Qatar, which is home to the largest US military base in the region, said the boycott aimed to undermine the country’s national sovereignty. The nation has some 2.3 million inhabitants, the overwhelming majority of whom are expats, and shares its only land border with the much larger Saudi Arabia.
Closing the rift
Kuwait has been acting as a mediator between the two sides. In December 2020, Foreign Minister Al Sabah signaled progress by saying that “all sides expressed their keenness for Gulf and Arab unity and stability” while discussing the issue.
At the time, Qatar said that any solution should be based on mutual respect.
“No country is in a position to impose any demands on another country … Each country should decide its foreign policy,” said Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani.
It was not immediately clear if Qatar accepted any of the demands previously listed by Riyadh and its backers in order to achieve the compromise announced on Monday.
However, a senior White House official told the Reuters news agency that Qatar will suspend lawsuits related to blockade under the new deal. The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt have yet to comment on the news, but the official said it was “our expectation” that they would join Riyadh in lifting the blockade.
Victory for Jared Kushner?
Qatar’s Al Thani had also praised White House senior adviser Jared Kushner for his efforts to bridge the gap during his Middle East tour in early December.
On Monday, the White House official said Kushner helped negotiate the latest deal. Kushner, who is the son-in-law of the outgoing US President Donald Trump, was allegedly flying to Saudi Arabia to attend the signing ceremony.
“It’s just a massive breakthrough,” the official told Reuters. “It will lead to more stability in the region.”
Kushner is also said to have played an important key role in a series of normalization deals between Israel and several Arab states in 2020. The Middle East diplomatic offensive could be seen as Washington’s push to form a united front against Iran.
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