In a sign of thaw, Qatari PM attends Gulf summit

December 10, 2019 10:51 pm | Updated 10:51 pm IST - RIYADH

Qatar’s Prime Minister attended a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday in the most concrete sign yet of a possible thaw in a regional dispute, but the meeting ended without public mention of the boycott of Riyadh since 2017.

Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser Al Thani’s presence, the most senior Qatari to attend the annual gathering since 2017, follows an intensification of efforts to resolve the row among U.S. allies.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and non-GCC member Egypt imposed a political and economic boycott of Qatar in June 2017 over allegations Doha backs terrorism.

Kuwait and the U.S. have tried to mediate the rift as it undermined their efforts to form a united front against Iran.

A senior regional official told Reuters that Kuwait recently was working “extremely hard to come up with reconciliation... supported by the United States”.

Efforts to end the row, including talks between Qatar’s foreign minister and Saudi officials in October, appeared to intensify after attacks in September on Saudi oil plants that initially halved the kingdom’s output and heightened regional tensions.

Riyadh and Washington blame Iran for the assault as well as earlier strikes this year on tankers in Gulf waters. Tehran denies involvement.

Saudi King Salman, who earlier afforded the Qatari prime minister a traditional welcome, called for regional unity to confront Iran and secure energy supplies and maritime channels.

A closed-door meeting lasted less than 20 minutes before a final communique echoed the need to boost military and security cooperation and pledged to create a financial and monetary bloc by 2025.

After it was read out, Kuwait’s ruling emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, who has long pressed to resolve the Qatar dispute, commended the call for unity.

Addressing King Salman, he said: “God willing, the coming meetings will be better than past meetings.”

Two sources familiar with Saudi thinking said Riyadh has softened its stance on a list of 13 demands to lift the embargo, including that Doha cut links to the Muslim Brotherhood, close Al Jazeera TV, shutter a Turkish military base and reduce ties with Iran, with whom Qatar shares a giant gas field.

But little is known about the current state of negotiations, and the UAE and Egypt may still refuse to yield.

“The onus lies with the one that caused the crisis, to reconsider erroneous policies that led to its isolation,” senior Emirati official Anwar Gargash tweeted on Monday.

A Western diplomat said the summit was unlikely to bring an immediate end to the dispute.

The Qatari premier last visited Saudi Arabia in May for an emergency summit to discuss regional security following an attack on tankers in Gulf waters.

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