The three-year blockade of Qatar by neighbouring Arab nations has gone on for too long and threatens regional security and prosperity, a US envoy has said.
US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook on Sunday acknowledged the challenge ahead of ending the crisis that has torn apart the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain part of the siege.
Egypt also joined the blockade, which saw nations close their airspace and borders to Qatar in June 2017.
Kuwait and Oman, the two other nations in the GCC, have sought dialogue between the countries since, with Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah leading those efforts.
The United States has so far unsuccessfully tried to mediate the dispute, which Washington sees as a threat to efforts to contain Iran.
“The dispute has continued for too long,” Hook told reporters from Doha after meeting with Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani.
“Bringing an end to this dispute really will advance the collective interests of all the parties to this conflict.”
Diplomats and Gulf sources have told the Reuters news agency the US has been trying to convince Saudi Arabia and its allies to reopen their airspace, but mediation efforts since the start of 2020 have yet to bear fruit.
Hook said he planned to travel on Monday to Kuwait City to meet with officials there and discuss the issue.
“I’ve seen some steps backwards over the last couple of years,” Hook said. “We’ve reached points where I think both sides were optimistic and we’ve reached points where both sides were pessimistic.
“I think our role and the role of Kuwait is to do what we can to foster dialogue, to help them make progress.”
The four countries cut ties with Qatar on June 5, 2017, just after a summit in Saudi Arabia in which Gulf leaders met US President Donald Trump. They accuse Qatar of supporting “extremist groups” in the region, charges denied by Doha.
Included in their demands are closing a Turkish military base in Qatar and shutting down Al Jazeera Media Network.
The quartet has also pointed to Qatar’s close relationship with Iran, with which it shares a massive offshore gas field that provides the peninsular nation with its vast wealth. Qatar restored full diplomatic ties with Iran amid the dispute.
Hook said the hospitalisation of the 91-year-old Kuwaiti ruler would “not have any negative effect on diplomatic efforts” to end the blockade. Sheikh Sabah, who is in the US receiving medical treatment, has long tried to end the siege.
The US envoy said he believed Sheikh Sabah, a long-serving diplomat, would want Kuwaiti efforts to continue.
Hook is in the Middle East to urge the extension of a United Nations arms embargo on Iran. Washington is trying to extend the embargo warning failure would “intensify” regional conflicts.
“I’ve spoken with leaders here in the Gulf and around the world – no one believes that Iran should be able to freely buy and sell conventional weapons such as fighter jets … and various kinds of missiles,” said Hook.
The US has urged the UN Security Council to extend the embargo which expires in October. The extension is opposed by veto-wielding Russia and China, which stand to gain major arms contracts from Iran.
“If the Security Council fails to extend the arms embargo by October 18, Iran will be able to freely buy and sell these weapons,” Hook said. “Imagine what the region will look like if this happens, conflicts in places like Syria and Yemen will certainly intensify.”
US arch foe Iran is a key player on the side of the Syrian government in the country’s conflict, and is aligned with Houthi rebels in Yemen fighting the government, supported by a coalition led by American ally Saudi Arabia.
Iran has vehemently opposed any extension of the arms embargo. Last month, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called the Trump administration “an outlaw bully” that is waging “economic terrorism” on his country.
If the US is unsuccessful in extending the weapons embargo, it has threatened to trigger a return of all UN sanctions on Iran under the landmark 2015 nuclear deal, from which Washington unilaterally withdrew in 2018.