Breakthrough reached in Gulf dispute with Qatar
A breakthrough has been reached in Qatar’s three-year-old dispute with Saudi Arabia and three other Arab countries and an agreement aimed at ending their rift is to be signed in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, a senior Trump administration official said.
The development is the latest in a series of Middle East deals sought by Washington - the others involving Israel and Arab states - aimed at building a united front against Iran.
As part of the deal, Saudi Arabia will reopen its airspace and land and sea border to Qatar as of Monday, Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Ahmad Nasser al-Sabah said on Kuwait TV ahead of a Gulf Arab summit in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.
Saudi state agency SPA quoted Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as saying the annual gathering of Gulf leaders would unite Gulf ranks “in the face of challenges facing the region”.
Qatar’s ruler, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, will attend, the royal court said. The U.S. official said the Saudi crown prince and Qatari emir would sign the deal.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt have imposed a diplomatic, trade and travel embargo on Qatar since mid-2017 accusing it of supporting terrorism. Qatar denies it and says the embargo aims to undermine its sovereignty.
While Saudi Arabia made clear it intended to lift the blockade, the other three countries did not do so immediately, but the Trump official said “it’s our expectation” they would also join in lifting the blockade. Under the emerging agreement, Qatar will suspend lawsuits related to the blockade, the official said.
All of the countries involved in the deals are U.S. allies. Qatar hosts the region’s largest U.S. military base, Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, and Saudi Arabia and the UAE host U.S. troops.
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, assigned to work on the dispute by U.S. President Donald Trump, helped negotiate the deal and was working the phones on it until the wee hours of Monday morning, the official said.
Kushner, Middle East envoy Avi Berkowitz and Brian Hook, a special State Department adviser, were flying to the Saudi Arabian city of al-Ula to attend the ceremony, the U.S. official said.
If the deal holds, the Gulf dispute will be added to a string of diplomatic achievements of the Kushner team, a list that includes normalization deals last year between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.
"It’s just a massive breakthrough. The blockade will be lifted. It will allow for travel amongst the countries as well as goods. It will lead to more stability in the region," Reuters cited the U.S. official as saying.