Amid signs the three-year blockade of Qatar may soon ease, Abu Dhabi and Cairo say they back rapprochement.
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) says Qatar’s leader has been invited to the bloc’s summit meeting next week amid efforts to heal rifts between Doha and a Saudi-led alliance.
Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani received a formal invitation from Saudi King Salman to the January 5 summit meeting of the six-nation GCC in Saudi Arabia, delivered by GCC Secretary-General Nayef Falah Al-Hajraf.
GCC SG H.E. Dr. Nayef Falah Al-Hajraf, delivered today an invitation from the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques to His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the Amir of Qatar, to attend the #GCCSUMMIT41 being held in KSA on Jan 5, 2021.https://t.co/oFAwUJSVLV pic.twitter.com/1CvRneUfbr
— مجلس التعاون (@GCCSG) December 30, 2020
It is not clear if Sheikh Tamim – who was invited to the last summit but declined, sending then-Prime Minister Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani instead – will attend next month’s summit.
In addition to Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the GCC includes Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
In June 2017, Saudi Arabia and its allies the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt severed ties with Qatar, saying it was funding “terrorist” groups and was too close to Iran
Qatar has repeatedly denied the allegations and said there was “no legitimate justification” for the severance of relations.
After severing ties, the four countries issued a list of 13 demands for Qatar, including that it shut down the Al Jazeera Media Network.
The Saudi-led quartet subsequently forced Qataris living and working in their countries to leave, closed their airspace to Qatari aircraft and sealed their borders and ports, separating some mixed-nationality families.
Sheikh Tamim’s participation would signal an easing of divisions.
On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia’s cabinet said it “wished for a successful summit to enhance joint action and enhanced cooperation between the country members,” according to a statement on the official Saudi Press Agency.
It follows comments earlier this month by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan who said that a resolution was in sight.
Egypt and the UAE have since given their public support to the negotiations, although diplomatic sources say the UAE has been reluctant to compromise.
On Sunday, the foreign ministers of the GCC held a virtual meeting where they discussed “cooperation” ahead of the GCC summit.
During the meeting, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdellatif al-Zayani expressed confidence “in Saudi Arabia’s ability to find a solution to the dispute within the Gulf”.
According to a Gulf official close to the negotiations, it is unlikely the summit will deliver a comprehensive agreement but would rather result in trust-building measures, including the possibility of opening up the airspace.
The potential thaw comes ahead of the January 20 inauguration of the next US president, Joe Biden, who is expected to welcome the resolution of a crisis that has undercut US efforts to rein in its arch-enemy, Iran.
Earlier this week, Qatar’s Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed the crisis over the phone.
“We believe that resolving the dispute is in the interest of all parties in the region, as well as in the interest of the United States,” a US Department of State official said.
Qatar has told Kuwait and the US that any resolution of the dispute must be based on mutual respect.