Could Saudi-Qatar talks signify a new era of gulf unity?
Qatar and Saudi show signs of easing tensions
Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been the centre of opposing ends of a Gulf dispute that has engulfed the region in the last couple of years. Saudi and several Gulf states initiated a blockade of Qatar in June 2017 over what they claimed was Qatari support for terrorism. 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.
This blockade has been ongoing for the past 2 years, with no progress being made. Last month, however, a breakthrough was made, as Qatar’s foreign minister has made an unannounced visit to Riyadh, amid signs that a 2-1/2-year rift among U.S.-allied Gulf Arab states could soon subside. 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 neighbours, an Arab official told the WSJ on Thursday. 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.
U.S. Senator Chris Murphy said the minister’s 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. Although the result of the meeting is unknown, it seems the 2 parties have opened up to negotiations, and have understood each other’s concerns for the first time, face to face.
Furthermore, Saudi Arabia broke its own blockade of Qatar on Monday by flying its national soccer team over the border for a tournament, suggesting the two-year impasse between the countries is easing.
Next GCC summit could be a crucial stepping stone in reaching Gulf unity
In addition to these recent events, the upcoming GCC summit in Saudi Arabia is coming at the perfect time, as it will give a perfect opportunity to not only negotiate the end of the Gulf Blockade but to enter a new era of Gulf unity. The 40th Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit is scheduled to take place in Riyadh on December 10, the six-nation body announced late on Sunday.
“Their Majesties and Highnesses will discuss several important political, defence, economic and social issues to reinforce the progress of the GCC and integration among the GCC members,” the GCC secretary-general, Abdulateef bin Rashid Al Zayani, said in a statement. “They will also review regional and international political developments as well as the security situation in the region and its effects on the security and stability of the GCC countries,” he added.
However, last year’s GCC summit, also held in Riyadh, ended without any breakthroughs to resolve the diplomatic crisis, which could be a worry to some, but the situation this year leading up to the summit is in stark contrast to that at the same point last year, which is why it may achieve important breakthroughs this time.
Recent Saudi-UAE agreement in Yemen started reconciliation in the Gulf
At the beginning of November, Yemen’s Hadi government who are backed by Saudi Arabia, and Yemen’s Southern Separatists backed by the UAE achieved a breakthrough in the ongoing Yemen conflict by signing a power-sharing agreement. At a televised ceremony in Riyadh on Tuesday, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin SalmanThisd: “this agreement will open a new period of stability in Yemen.” According to details of the deal, the Southern Transitional Council (STC) – backed by the United Arab Emirates – will reportedly be handed a number of ministries, while the internationally-recognized government will be able to return to Aden under control of the Saudi-led coalition. The officials said the separatists had agreed to disband their militias, which would be integrated into President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s forces.
Martin Griffiths congratulated the two sides on a deal that he said would propel efforts to end the wider civil war that continues to devastate the country. “The signing of this agreement is an important step for our collective efforts to advance a peaceful settlement to the conflict in Yemen,” added Griffiths. This is an important step towards a reduction of infighting between the 2 parties in Yemen, which will, in turn, reduce unintended violence. This also makes the war clear and possible closer to an end, as the 2 forces look to overpower the Houthis.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s power-sharing agreement in Yemen last month, is what appears to have kicked off this general push for Gulf unity, it might be because of increasing sentiment towards Iran, or a general realization that the disunity has not resulted in any geopolitical, economic or military gains