Gulf Arab leaders arrived in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday for a summit focused on ending a long-running dispute with Qatar which shattered Gulf unity at a time of heightened regional tensions with Iran.
Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani was met in the historic city of al-Ula by de facto Saudi ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The two men, wearing face masks, embraced on the tarmac.
Ahead of the gathering, Kuwait announced that Saudi Arabia, which along with allies boycotted Doha in mid-2017, would reopen its airspace and borders to Qatar under a deal that a senior U.S. official said would be signed in the presence of White House senior adviser Jared Kushner.
Other Gulf leaders arrived earlier and a source said Egypt’s foreign minister would attend the annual summit, postponed from its December date as Riyadh worked for a deal.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt severed diplomatic; trade and travel ties with Qatar over allegations Doha supports terrorism, a charge it denies.
While Riyadh made clear it intended to lift the embargo; the other three states did not immediately comment on the issue. But the U.S. official said, “it’s our expectation” they would also join. Under the emerging deal, Qatar will suspend lawsuits related to the boycott, the official said.
Diplomats and analysts say Saudi Arabia was pushing reluctant allies for the deal to show U.S. President-elect Joe Biden that Riyadh is open to dialogue. Biden has vowed to take a harder line with the kingdom over its human rights record and the Yemen war.
Pressure from an incoming Biden administration
“Despite the purported rapprochement between Gulf parties, it is worth noting that this is seemingly influenced by a desire to pre-empt pressure from an incoming Biden administration, more than a genuine commitment to conflict resolution,” said Emadeddin Badi, nonresident senior fellow at Atlantic Council.
“As such, the détente within the GCC is very unlikely to significantly affect geopolitical dynamics beyond the Gulf.”
The UAE and Egypt are at cross purposes with Qatar in Libya and over the Muslim Brotherhood.
All of the states are U.S. allies. Qatar hosts the region’s largest U.S. military base, Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, and Saudi Arabia and the UAE host U.S. troops.
Qatar says the boycott aims to curb its sovereignty.
The other countries had set Doha 13 demands, including closing Al Jazeera TV; shuttering a Turkish base, cutting links to the Muslim Brotherhood and downgrading ties with Iran.