It is expected that the Gulf crisis, which has caused a rift in relations between Qatar and four Arab countries, will dominate the Gulf Cooperation Council summit scheduled in Saudi Arabia next Tuesday, amid indications from Qatar and Saudi Arabia in particular of a desire to reach a solution.
In June 2017, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting Islamic extremist groups, which Doha denies, and has taken it closer to Iran.
The four countries have taken measures to boycott Qatar, including closing its airspace to Qatari planes, preventing commercial dealings with the emirate and stopping Qataris from entering its lands, which has caused family members of mixed nationalities to be separated from each other.
After cutting ties, the four countries issued a list of 13 demands from Qatar, including closing the Al-Jazeera media network and downgrading Qatar’s relations with Turkey. But Doha has not publicly complied with any of the demands.
The Gulf summit meeting on Tuesday comes as Washington intensified its pressure on the rival countries to resolve the crisis, stressing that Gulf unity is necessary to isolate Iran as President Donald Trump’s term approaches its end.
Over the past years, the White House has escalated its rhetoric against Iran, and Washington withdrew from the international agreement concluded between the Islamic Republic and six major countries in 2015 aimed at controlling Iran’s nuclear program, but President-elect Joe Biden hinted at the possibility of returning to the negotiating table with Tehran.
US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said last November that allowing Qatari planes to fly over Saudi Arabia again was a priority for the Trump administration.
In contrast, analysts indicated that Qatar might agree to push for a reduction in media coverage of news related to Saudi Arabia.
The dispute with Qatar will be high on the agenda at the meeting, which will be held in Al-Ula Governorate, in the northwest of the Kingdom.
It is not clear whether the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, will participate in the summit. The level of Qatari representation will be the true indicator of where things have turned out, as the presence of the Emir will be evidence of actual rapprochement.
The Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Nayef Falah Al-Hajraf, visited Doha on Wednesday to hold talks with the Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Rahman Al Thani, and delivered the invitation to the Emir of the country to attend the summit, noting that Qatar was the last to receive the Saudi invitation among the GCC countries after Emirates, Kuwait, Sultanate of Oman and Bahrain.
While Gulf sources say that the meeting may result in an agreement to launch dialogue and take confidence-building steps such as opening the airspace, it appears that a comprehensive agreement to restore relations to normalcy is not yet ready.
Andreas Craig, assistant professor at King’s College London, said, “They will announce the interim agreement with the prince, probably with his presence.”
He notes that Bahrain is still seeking solutions to pending issues with Qatar before the final agreement, including the issue of fishing and maritime borders.
In addition, experts warn that the UAE may be the decisive player in any regional reconciliation, after it directed harsh criticism of Qatar and its leadership since the start of the dispute.
The UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash wrote on Twitter this month, “The political and social atmosphere in the Arab Gulf is looking forward to ending the Qatar crisis and is looking for the best way to ensure Doha’s commitment to any agreement that carries in it the good of the region.”
He added, “As for the Qatari media platforms, they seem determined to undermine any agreement. A strange and difficult phenomenon to explain.”
Prior to that, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan told AFP that his country’s allies were “on the same line” with regard to resolving the Gulf crisis, and an agreement was expected soon.
Since then, Egypt and the UAE have publicly supported the negotiations, although diplomatic sources say the UAE is reluctant to make concessions.
The signs of dissolution come at a time when the Gulf states are preparing to deal with a new US administration, after excellent relations between them and the administration of outgoing President Donald Trump.
Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmed Nasser Al-Muhammad Al-Sabah, whose country is leading mediation efforts between Qatar and its neighbors, confirmed that all parties expressed their eagerness to reach a “final agreement” during “fruitful discussions” in which the United States recently participated.