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Did Qatari Foreign Minister secretly visit Saudi Arabia as part of sports diplomacy?

Qatar and Saudi Arabia seem to be serious and, to a certain extent, committed to lessen tension and work jointly to find out a mutually discussed solution for the regional challenges. But the question is will it work?

Saudi Arabia

International media reports claim that Qatar’s foreign minister made an unannounced (secret) visit to the Saudi capital, Riyadh, last month. The reports being led by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and Reuters News Agency, could not independently be verified. Neither Riyadh nor Doha have issued any statement in this regard. However, there is predominant perception and circumstantial evidence which suggests that Qatari FM might have visited SA.

Reports claim that 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 neighbors.

However, 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.

GCC Countries Want Qatar to ‘Do More’

On June 5, 2017, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt cut diplomatic ties and trade relations with Qatar, closing land, air and sea links, as they accused Doha of supporting “terrorism” and their regional rival, Iran. Doha vehemently denies the charges and says the boycott aims to impinge on its sovereignty.

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.

Read more: Qatari Emir invited to GCC summit despite tensions with KSA

The blockade has created problems not only for Qatar at a structural level but also for the children. Recently, Maryam bint Abdullah al-Attiyah, Secretary-General National Human Rights Committee (NHRC), explained how children are being affected by this unilateral decision of the Arab states.

Al-Attiyah pointed to “the seriousness of the violations affecting Qatari children as a result of the blockade imposed on the country, expressing regret that the celebration of the Universal Children’s Day coincided with the continuing violations and discriminatory measures of the blockade countries, which did not exclude any category of Qatari society, including children”.

“Qatar is Willing to Find a Viable Solution”

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.

Qatar believes it is going to be a “breakthrough” in resolving the Gulf crisis that will be followed by new steps

Moreover, the official noted that “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.”

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.

Is Sports Diplomacy Working?

Qatar is viewing the participation of Saudi Arabia and UAE in a key football tournament as a sign of vindication and diplomatic success. Qatar believes it is going to be a “breakthrough” in resolving the Gulf crisis that will be followed by new steps, a senior Kuwait official has said.

Last week, Saudi Arabia, as well as allies the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, announced they would compete for the Arabian Gulf title in Doha from November 26 despite their two-year boycott of Qatar.

It is important to note that His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah of Kuwait has categorically stated that the dispute between Qatar and its Gulf neighbors “is no longer acceptable” and must be resolved. He was addressing the opening session of parliament’s new term, Sheikh Sabah said the boycott has greatly weakened the unity of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), of which Qatar is a member.

Read more: Ending blockade: Qatar and Saudi Arabia are moving towards a major breakthrough

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