Gulf States Reach Deal to End Three-year-old Qatar Boycott, Kuwait Announces

Breakthrough is the latest in a series of Middle East deals sought by Washington, aimed at building a united front against Iran

Reuters
Jack Khoury
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Qatar's ruler, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, meets with U.S. President's senior adviser Jared Kushner in Doha, Qatar, December 2, 2020
Qatar's ruler, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, meets with U.S. President's senior adviser Jared Kushner in Doha, Qatar, December 2, 2020Credit: HANDOUT/ REUTERS
Reuters
Jack Khoury

A breakthrough has been reached in Qatar's three-year-old dispute with Saudi Arabia and three other Arab countries and an agreement to end their rift is to be signed in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.

Kuwait's foreign minister said in televised comment that Saudi Arabia will reopen its airspace and land and sea border to Qatar as of Monday.

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"We've had a breakthrough in the Gulf Cooperation Council rift," said a senior U.S. official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Ahmed Nasser Al-Jaber Al-Sabah also said he had a phone call with Qatari crown prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and informed him that Kuwait will fully open its borders to Qatar. They also spoke to the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who made similar commitments. 

Saudi state agency SPA quoted Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman saying that the forthcoming Gulf Arab summit in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday would unite Gulf ranks "in the face of challenges facing the region".

Kuwait's foreign minister said a declaration would be signed at the summit, which was postponed from its usual December date as Riyadh pushed for an agreement towards ending the rift

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. All of the countries involved in the deals are U.S. allies.

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. When in December, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said a resolution to the dispute seemed within reach, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in a Twitter post said he hoped Gulf reconciliation “contributes to stability and political and economic development for all peoples of our region.”

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.

Kushner, joined by 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 official said.

Gulf Arab leaders are expected to gather in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday for an annual summit that is expected to announce a deal towards ending the rift.

Under the emerging agreement, the four countries will end the blockade of Qatar, and in exchange, Qatar will not pursue lawsuits related to the blockade, the official said.

"At the signing on the 5th, leadership from the Gulf Cooperation Council plus Egypt will be coming together to sign an agreement that will end the blockade and put an end to the Qatari lawsuits," the official said.

The lifting of the embargo by Saudi Arabia paves the way for Qatar’s ruler to attend the summut, which would traditionally be chaired by Saudi King Salman, though his son and heir, the crown prince, may instead lead the meeting.

State-run Qatari media confirmed Monday evening Sheikh Tamim would be attending the summit, a move that analysts say would have been domestically sensitive for him had the Saudi blockade still been in place.

If the deal holds, the Gulf dispute will be added to a string of diplomatic victories achieved by the Kushner team, a list that includes normalization deals last year between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.

Kushner, who is also Trump's son-in-law, has been working on other normalization deals between Israel and other countries in the Arab world but may run out of time with President-elect Joe Biden due to take over the presidency on Jan. 20.

"It's just a massive breakthrough," the official said. "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."

The Associated Press contributed to the article

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