Saudi Arabia willing to engage Qatar, UAE still resists

Saudi leadership under crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS) increasingly sees less and less dividends of the 2017 blockade of Qatar. Doha and its institutions, despite initial difficulties, have been robust and resilient in engaging the world at large. Riyadh and Oman both realise that and are eager to end the differences between the six member GCC alliance that was created in 1981. But UAE is still resisting this re-engagement.

Saudi Arabia

The unilateral blockade imposed on Qatar by GCC countries is seemingly eroding the existing Saudi Arabia-led alliance. Saudi Arabia, on one hand, is giving space to Qatar and holding talks through formal and informal channels. UAE, a staunch critic of Qatar and the state-run Al Jazeera, is not interested to give any concession to Qatar.

In a fresh development, the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash has commented on the ongoing crisis with Qatar on Monday. “A foreign guest asked me about the developments of the Qatar crisis, and I replied: Half a step forward and two steps back. The problem is that Qatar’s worst enemy is Qatar,” he tweeted.

His comments come weeks after the annual GCC Summit where Qatar’s Emir did not attend despite being invited by Saudi Arabia. There was initial hope ahead of the summit that Gulf leaders could use the forum to start mending ties after a years-long rift.

Doha Blockade: June 2017

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.

Read more: Future for Qatar and Saudi Arabia after ‘almost’ striking a deal?

Recently, Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said that there had been “some progress” in talks with Saudi Arabia. “We believe the blockade of Qatar and the sequences of events after that has been affecting and undermining the security in our region,” the minister said.

He pointed out that they have moved from stalemate to some progress. “In recent weeks we have moved from a stalemate to some progress. There are some talks that have taken place between us and, specifically, Saudi,” he said. Moreover, the minister also maintained that “we hope these talks will lead to progress where we can see an end to the crisis.”

Role by Kuwait to end conflict

The Qatari minister said the talks took place under Kuwaiti mediation and thanked Kuwait’s emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, for his “continuous efforts and commitment”.

Read more: Qatar’s predicted absence in Gulf summit: regional tensions arise

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.

Diminishing Returns of Blockade: Gulf State Analytics

Giorgio Cafiero, CEO of Gulf State Analytics, a Washington, DC-based geopolitical risk consultancy, believes that “the Saudi leadership sees efforts aimed at isolating Doha as far less critical in the current period compared to previous periods.

The blockade has accumulated diminishing returns from the Saudi standpoint, and although it is difficult to imagine Saudi Arabia ceasing to have problems with Qatar, there has been a notable moderation of Riyadh’s rhetoric and policies concerning Doha. Signs suggest that Qatar and Saudi Arabia could find a ‘new understanding’ which could result in bilateral relations re-normalizing before the end of this year”.

He further notes that “a Saudi-Qatari rapprochement by itself would mark a major success for Kuwait. As the Gulf state that has been leading mediation efforts since this festering feud began in mid-2017, Kuwait has worked tirelessly to resolve the GCC crisis. The Sultanate of Oman also has attempted to help the blockading states and Qatar resolve their dispute, making any further thawing of relations between both sides in Riyadh this month a welcome development from Muscat’s perspective”.

Moreover, Giorgi opined that “if Saudi Arabia unfreezes its diplomatic and economic relations with Qatar, such a move will signal a significant shift in Riyadh’s foreign policy with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his father King Salman at the helm. If such a turning point occurs at the GCC summit, it will be essential to understand such a moment within the grander context of all that Saudi Arabia is facing in terms of its alliance with Washington and the region’s chaotic state of affairs”.

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