Gulf analysts believe the announcement of a Gulf summit in Riyadh, instead of Manama, clearly shows that Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has taken over the file of reconciliation with Qatar and that Riyadh will seek within the remainder of the time before the summit date to test Doha’s intentions.
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A Gulf diplomatic source said
“the fact that the file is in the hands of King Salman means that he will not leave room for manoeuvres and contradictory statements that have characterised the Qatari position in recent years, as it expressed its desire for reconciliation with one hand, and escalated its media attacks with the other, leading to thwarting the reconciliation efforts that Doha was running after before anyone else”.
and is seeking to unify the Gulf position to enable the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to face regional challenges united, but if the Qataris do not respond to this royal desire, the matter will end early.
Gulf analysts say that the summit in Saudi Arabia appears to be part of a collective agreement from the boycotting countries that the Qatari leadership should go to Riyadh as the only centre for a solution and recommit to what it had previously committed to in the first (2013) and second (2014) Riyadh agreements, and that this third (2021) agreement should be the final one, leaving no margin for escaping responsibility.
According to statements published on the website of the Kuwaiti Foreign Ministry, Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmed Nasser al-Muhammad al-Sabah announced, on Thursday in a meeting with the ambassadors of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, that Saudi Arabia will be hosting the annual Gulf summit Jan. 5.
A Gulf source said that the mediators, Kuwait and the Sultanate of Oman, had persuaded Qatar to stop playing on Saudi Arabia’s nerves and move positively before the U.S. President-elect Joe Biden assumes his duties on Jan. 20, especially that changes in the U.S. position will not include Riyadh alone, but will affect Doha as well, as the new U.S. administration may decide to open several files at once.
The source, who preferred to remain anonymous, revealed that Kuwait would work on bilateral details pertaining to relations between Saudi Arabia and Qatar in the hope of reaching arrangements that would satisfy the Saudi monarch and the leaders of the Emirates and Bahrain and encourage all parties to attend the summit, provided that these arrangements be tangible and go beyond mere enthusiasm in showing good intentions, like Doha had always done previously.
He added that Kuwait and the Sultanate of Oman are now operating within the logic of the internal Gulf understandings, and that the case of Egypt may be included in a broader context. Qatari steps to show goodwill towards Cairo are awaited, including stopping media campaigns targeting Egypt and its leadership, and restricting the activities of the Egyptian members of the Muslim Brotherhood residing in Doha.
The postponement of the Gulf summit from its regular date in December to the fifth of January reveals a desire to give the Kuwaiti and Omani efforts sufficient time to receive pledges from Qatar regarding the thirteen conditions behind the boycott decision.
The dispute, which prompted Saudi Arabia and its allies to sever diplomatic, trade and travel links with Qatar in mid-2017, had witnessed some progress with Riyadh’s announcement earlier this month that a final solution was within reach.
The other countries involved in the dispute were more reserved in welcoming the progress in the mediation efforts made by Kuwait and the United States, the latter wishing to unite the Arab Gulf states in the face of Iran.
Four well-informed sources told Reuters that they expected a declaration of a truce in this regard to be issued in conjunction with the summit.
A Gulf source said that an agreement, which ministers will finalise before the summit that brings together government leaders, may lead to a set of principles for negotiation or a more concrete move that includes reopening the airspace to Qatar as a goodwill gesture.
“Things are moving quickly, but they are still pending, and for the negotiations to reach a final solution may take months,” the source added.
Another source said that when Kuwait announced that progress was being made on the issue, all Gulf leaders promised to attend the summit. But talks about reopening the airspace, a step promoted by Washington, have stalled.
A foreign diplomat in the region expected that the initial agreement at the summit would be followed by a new deadlock, even if all leaders participated in the Riyadh summit.
“The Saudis are keen to show Biden that they are peacemakers and are open to dialogue,” he said, considering that the influential Gulf country is likely to succeed in convincing reluctant allies to join its position.
The boycotting countries had made 13 demands on Doha, ranging from halting Al Jazeera’s smear campaigns, closing a Turkish military base in Qatar, to cutting ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and downgrading its ties with Iran.
A senior Omani diplomat said that some issues, such as those related to Turkey, would require more time but that major changes were taking place. But he has expressed optimism by saying, “I see light at the end of the tunnel.”
Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Bahrain, in addition to Egypt, accuse Qatar of supporting terrorism, in reference to its support to Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood.
The UAE is at odds with Qatar over Libya and the Muslim Brotherhood issues, which are key issues for Cairo as well.
Speaking about the dispute, Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan told a press conference this week that if there are countries that still support terrorism and extremism in the region, this will be a problem.
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