Kushner visits Qatar with eye to ending Gulf alliance rift

US president’s senior adviser meets with country’s ruler Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani for talks on ‘developments in the region,’ state news agency reports

Senior adviser to the US president Jared Kushner attends a press conference in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on September 4, 2020. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP)
Senior adviser to the US president Jared Kushner attends a press conference in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on September 4, 2020. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP)

DOHA, Qatar — US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner is expected to tackle the Gulf crisis and push for progress toward ending the spat during a visit to Qatar Wednesday.

The official Qatar News Agency reported that Kushner met with the country’s ruler Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, saying they discussed “developments in the region.”

Few details have been made public about Kushner’s trip, which could be his last chance to press diplomatic issues in a region that has been a focal point for the outgoing Trump administration.

Analysts expect Kushner will focus on efforts to resolve the three-year-long Gulf crisis, which has pitted a Saudi-led alliance against Qatar, suggesting it could result in limited confidence-building measures.

Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani delivers a speech at the Kuala Lumpur Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, December 19, 2019. (Lai Seng Sin/AP)

Cinzia Bianco, a research fellow at the European Council for International Relations, said Saudi Arabia was “considering a transitional trial phase to see if they can start resolving the dispute.”

Riyadh, along with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, cut all ties with Qatar in June 2017 over allegations Doha was too close to Iran and backed radical Islamists. Qatar denies the charges.

The boycotting countries have closed their airspace, land borders and sea channels to Qataris and vehicles registered there.

That has forced Qatar Airways aircraft to fly over Iran, Riyadh’s arch-rival and longtime adversary of Washington, paying significant overflight fees to Tehran in the process.

Royal United Services Institute analyst Tobias Borck said he expected “some kind of confidence-building measure to emerge from this — perhaps the opening of Saudi airspace for Qatar Airways.”

US national security adviser Robert O’Brien said in November that allowing Qatari planes to fly over Saudi Arabia via an “air bridge” was a priority for the outgoing Trump administration.

In return, Qatar could agree that its media, including Al Jazeera, would tone down its coverage of Saudi Arabia, according to another analyst, who declined to be named due to the issue’s sensitivity.

The UAE, which has been Qatar’s most vocal critic since the start of the crisis, is not expected to be included in the latest initiative to resolve the spat.

David Roberts, author of a book on Qatari geopolitics, said the UAE has “only ever doubled down on the Qatar issue. So it’s far harder to see how they might pivot.”

Qatar has repeatedly said it is open to talks without preconditions, though it has not signaled publicly it would compromise on the 13 demands of the boycotting countries.

Past mediation efforts led by Kuwait have come to nothing.

A Qatari woman walks in front of the city skyline in Doha, Qatar, May 14, 2010. (Kamran Jebreili/AP)

Kushner is also expected to push for Saudi Arabia and Qatar to normalize ties with Israel after the UAE and Bahrain forged ties with the Jewish state and Sudan agreed in principle to follow suit.

He will meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Neom — the Red Sea city where Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week allegedly held a secret rendezvous with the prince, alongside US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

It was the first known visit to Saudi Arabia by an Israeli leader, but the talks on Iran and possible normalization reportedly yielded no substantial progress.

Qatar and Saudi Arabia, both close allies of Washington, have so far held out, insisting the Palestinian issue should be resolved ahead of any normalizing of ties with Israel.

ToI staff contributed to this report.

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