Saudi Arabia’s crown prince embraces Qatar’s Emir at Gulf summit as three-year blockade ends

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End of the blockade: Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman embraces Qatar’s Emir as the countries agree to open their air space and end the diplomatic crisis which began three years ago

  • Saudi Arabia is hosting a Gulf summit in the ancient desert city of Al-Ula
  • On Monday, it was announced the kingdom’s embargo of Qatar had ended
  • The leaders signed a declaration to mark a new page in Arab relations 

Saudi Arabia has welcomed fellow Gulf nations to a summit after finally ending its three-year embargo of Qatar.

The leaders signed a declaration on Tuesday in the kingdom to mark a new page in relations following the blockade that deeply divided the region.

Mohammed bin Salman even embraced Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani as he arrived at the summit.

The Saudi decision to open its air space and borders to Qatar was the first major step towards ending the diplomatic crisis that began in 2017, just as the Trump administration was raising pressure on Iran.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, right, welcomes Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani upon his arrival to attend the Gulf Summit on Tuesday

The Saudi decision to open its air space and borders to Qatar was the first major step towards ending the diplomatic crisis that began in 2017

The Saudi decision to open its air space and borders to Qatar was the first major step towards ending the diplomatic crisis that began in 2017

The move was announced on Monday night, on the eve of the gathering of Gulf Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia’s ancient desert city of Al-Ula today.

It is unclear what, if any, concessions Qatar made before the summit, but an immediate shift in tone was palpable as one of Qatar’s Al Jazeera Arabic news Twitter accounts shared photos of the Riyadh and Abu Dhabi skylines following years of critical coverage.

The diplomatic breakthrough followed a final push by the outgoing Trump administration and Kuwait to mediate the dispute. 

It also came as Saudi Arabia seeks to unify Arab ranks ahead of the incoming administration of president-elect Joe Biden, which is expected to take a firmer stand toward the kingdom and re-engage with Iran.

The leaders signed a declaration on Tuesday in the kingdom to mark a new page in relations following the blockade that deeply divided the region

The leaders signed a declaration on Tuesday in the kingdom to mark a new page in relations following the blockade that deeply divided the region

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who embraced Qatar’s emir on his arrival at the summit, said the region needed to unite and face challenges posed by Iran’s proxies and its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

He said the declaration signed by Gulf leaders and Egypt ’emphasises Arab and Gulf solidarity and stability, and reinforces the continuity of friendship and brotherhood between our countries’.

The four countries that jointly boycotted Qatar – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain – were hoping their embargo and media blitz would pressure it to end its close relations with Turkey and Iran.

Egypt and the UAE view the support by Qatar and Turkey of Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood as a security threat. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are primarily concerned about Qatar’s ties with Iran.

The boycott failed to change Doha’s stance, instead buoying its young ruler domestically as patriotic fervour swept through Qatar in support of his resolve.

It also pushed Qatar closer to Turkey and Iran, which rushed to support the ultra-wealthy Gulf state as it faced medical and food supply shortages in the first days of the embargo.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said the region needed to unite and face challenges posed by Iran's proxies

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said the region needed to unite and face challenges posed by Iran’s proxies

While the Saudi decision to end its embargo marks a milestone in resolving the dispute, the path towards reconciliation is far from guaranteed. The rift between Abu Dhabi and Doha has been deepest, with the UAE and Qatar at sharp ideological odds.

UAE foreign affairs minister Anwar Gargash tweeted late on Monday that his country was keen to restore Gulf unity but cautioned: ‘We have more work to do.’

The presence of Qatar’s Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani at the summit marked the first time he has attended the Gulf Co-operation Council meeting in Saudi Arabia since the boycott began. He sent an envoy to the past two summits there.

This year, Egypt’s foreign minister also attended the meeting of the six-nation council, which comprises Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar. The meeting was chaired by the Saudi crown prince rather than his father, King Salman.

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