search
Saudi crown prince and Qatar's ruler hug at the airport

Ending regional rift with a public embrace, Saudi Arabia and Qatar restore ties

As kingdom hosts Qatari emir at Gulf nations summit, Saudi foreign minister says agreement represents ‘turning of the page on all points of difference’

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 Cooperation Council's 41st Summit in Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia, January 5, 2021. (Saudi Royal Court via AP)
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 Cooperation Council's 41st Summit in Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia, January 5, 2021. (Saudi Royal Court via AP)

AL-ULA, Saudi Arabia — Full ties have been restored between Qatar and the four nations that severed relations with Doha in a rift that began over three years ago, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said Tuesday, after the parties signed new agreements.

Saudi state media said that de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met separately with Qatar’s ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, after the pair publicly embraced at the airport.

Saudi Arabia led a coalition of countries in the Gulf and beyond that cut ties and transport links with Qatar in June 2017, charging that it was too close to Iran and backed radical Islamist groups — allegations Doha has always denied.

“What happened today is… the turning of the page on all points of difference and a full return of diplomatic relations,” Prince Faisal bin Farhan told a press conference at the conclusion of a landmark regional summit in Saudi Arabia.

“During the meeting, they reviewed bilateral relations between the two brotherly countries and ways of consolidating the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) joint action,” the official Saudi Press Agency said.

Saudi journalists watch a large display screen in a media center, showing Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, center, at the 41st Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) meeting, in Al Ula, Saudi Arabia, January 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

Leaders of the six-member GCC signed two documents on Tuesday, the Al-Ula Declaration, named after the Saudi city where this year’s regional summit was held, and a final communique.

Three GCC members — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain — took part in the three and a half year blockade, alongside Egypt.

Qatar is also a GCC member state, along with Kuwait and Oman, which remained neutral in the spat.

The documents are general in terms, but Prince Mohammed said earlier that the Gulf states had inked an agreement that affirms “our Gulf, Arab and Islamic solidarity and stability.”

He called for unity to confront challenges facing the region, singling out “the threats posed by the Iranian regime’s nuclear and ballistic missile program and its plans for sabotage and destruction.”

It was unclear what, if any, significant concessions Qatar had made before the summit. Still, 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 on Tuesday following years of critical coverage.

A giant image of the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, adorns a tower in Doha, Qatar, May 5, 2018. (Kamran Jebreili/AP)

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 US President-elect Joe Biden, which is expected to take a firmer stand toward the kingdom and re-engage with Iran.

Saudi Arabia’s decision to end the embargo not only underscored the kingdom’s assertion of its heavyweight position among Arab states, but also its regional leadership, which has been challenged at times by the UAE’s unilateral and politically shrewd moves.

Qatar’s only land border with Saudi Arabia, which it relied on for the import of dairy products, construction materials and other goods, has been mostly closed since June 2017.

The boycotting countries made a list of demands on Qatar that year, including that it shutter its flagship Al-Jazeera news network and terminate Turkish military presence in Qatar, which is also home to a major US military base. Qatar rejected the demands and has denied support of extremists.

read more:
comments