The Gulf crisis appears to be moving towards a resolution after airspace and border restrictions were removed.
Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani headed to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, state media said, for a Gulf Arab summit that is expected to see formal agreement towards ending a dispute that has seen Riyadh and its allies boycott Qatar.
Sheikh Tamim’s participation comes after Kuwait’s foreign minister announced late on Monday that Saudi Arabia will reopen its airspace, as well as its land and sea border, with Qatar, paving the way for a deal towards resolving the Gulf crisis.
“Based on [Kuwait’s ruler Emir] Sheikh Nawaf’s proposal, it was agreed to open the airspace and land and sea borders between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the State of Qatar, starting from this evening,” Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Ahmad Nasser Al Sabah said on state TV.
In his statement, Kuwait’s foreign minister said that the Kuwaiti emir had spoken with Qatar’s emir and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The conversations “emphasised that everyone was keen on reunification” and would gather in Al-Ula [for the GCC summit] to sign a statement that promises to “usher in a bright page of brotherly relations”.
In June 2017, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt accused Qatar, among other things, of supporting terrorism and being too close to Iran, and severed economic and diplomatic ties. They also imposed a land, sea and air blockade on Qatar.
Qatar has repeatedly denied the allegations and said there was “no legitimate justification” for the severance of relations.
Kuwait has been mediating between Qatar and four Arab states.
The summit in Al-Ula, in Saudi Arabia’s northwest, will be attended by Jared Kushner, adviser and son-in-law to United States President Donald Trump, following his diplomatic efforts, a US official said.
“We’ve had a breakthrough in the Gulf Cooperation Council rift,” the official said on condition of anonymity, confirming an announcement from Kuwait.
Kushner will attend “to sign an agreement that will end the blockade and put an end to the Qatari lawsuits,” the official added.
UAE, Saudi response
In remarks carried by the Saudi state-run news agency on Monday, Crown Prince Mohammed said the GCC summit will be “inclusive”, leading the states toward “reunification and solidarity in facing the challenges of our region”.
A senior UAE official said that the GCC summit would restore Gulf unity.
In a Twitter post, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said, “We stand before a historic summit in Al-Ula, through which we restore our Gulf cohesion and ensure that security, stability and prosperity is our top priority. We have more work ahead and we are headed in the right direction.”
نحن أمام قمة تاريخية بامتياز في العلا نعيد من خلالها اللحمة الخليجية ونحرص عبرها أن يكون أمن وإستقرار وإزدهار دولنا وشعوبنا الأولوية الأولى، أمامنا المزيد من العمل ونحن في الإتجاه الصحيح.
— د. أنور قرقاش (@AnwarGargash) January 4, 2021
In December, the Qatari emir received a formal invitation from Saudi King Salman to the summit, delivered by GCC Secretary-General Nayef Falah al-Hajraf.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s foreign ministry said in a statement that the country “welcomed” the decision on reopening the border, adding that it was “an important step towards resolving the dispute”.
Saudi, Qatar land border opens
On Monday evening, the Abu Samra crossing between Qatar and Saudi Arabia was manned by customs officials, but there have been no crossings witnessed so far, Al Jazeera reporters at the border said.
It was not yet clear what the rules were for crossing the border, however, Qatar is not allowing non-resident visitors into the country as part of COVID-19 restrictions.
“The atmosphere is quiet, but customs officials are on duty and all immigration counters are open,” Al Jazeera’s Sorin Furcoi reported from the border.
“Young Qataris drove towards the border. I’ve seen nine, 10 cars stopping to confirm with the traffic police located at the entry into the border point that the border is indeed open.”