Reports: Qatari FM visited Riyadh in sign of easing GCC tensions

Reports say Qatar FM met senior Saudi officials in the capital during a visit last month.

Qatar''s foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani gestures during a joint news conference with Russia''s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov in Doha
This was the highest-level visit by Qatar to the kingdom since May [File: Naseem Zeitoon/Reuters]

Qatar‘s foreign minister made an unannounced visit to the Saudi capital, Riyadh, last month, according to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and Reuters News Agency, a move that may signal an apparent thaw in the two-year-old regional diplomatic dispute.

During his visit, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani met senior Saudi officials and made an offer to end the rift between Qatar and its blockading neighbours, an Arab official told the WSJ on Thursday.

It was unclear if the visit included a meeting with Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

This was the highest-level visit by a Qatari official to the kingdom since May when Qatar’s prime minister attended an Arab summit in Mecca.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt imposed a land, air and sea blockade on Qatar in June 2017 over accusations of its support for “terrorism”. Qatar has repeatedly denied the accusations.

The boycotting nations set 13 demands for lifting the boycott, including the closing down of Al Jazeera Media Network, shuttering a Turkish military base and reducing ties with Iran.

Saudi Arabia is weighing Qatar’s proposal, the unnamed Arab official told the WSJ.

When asked about the visit, a senior Qatari official told Al Jazeera that Doha has “welcomed each and every opportunity to resolve the ongoing blockade through open dialogue and mutual respect of each country’s sovereignty”.

“Since the outset of the illegal blockade on Qatar, we have been clear that Qatar is prepared to work within the GCC framework to find a solution,” the official said.

“There has been a significant misunderstanding about Qatar’s relationship with specific political parties in the region. This misunderstanding was mostly driven by orchestrated and paid campaigns targeting Qatar’s image.

“Our support has been sometimes misconstrued by those seeking to isolate Qatar, but the facts bear out our position.”

The Saudi government communications office did not immediately respond to a request for comment by Reuters.

Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir told reporters last weekend Riyadh was still waiting for Doha to answer the demands.

US Senator Chris Murphy said the Qatari foreign minister’s reported trip was “an important move that showed openness to some dialogue between the two sides”.

“At the very least, I think the Saudis seem sincere in trying to figure out the path forward,” he told Reuters during a trip to Bahrain.

Earlier this month, football teams from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain reversed their decision to boycott the 24th Arabian Gulf Cup hosted by Qatar.

There were also reports of the Saudi team taking a direct flight from Riyadh to Doha, despite the airspace restrictions, for the regional tournament, that kicked off on Tuesday.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies