Saudi Arabia Ends Embargo Against Qatar

Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud holds a press conferece at the end of the 41st Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit, in the city of al-Ula in northwestern Saudi Arabia on January 5, 2021. - Gulf leaders signed a "solidarity and stability" deal after the leaders of Saudi Arabia …
FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images

Prince Faisal bin Farhan, the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, told reporters at a summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) on Tuesday that his country and its allies will “fully set our differences aside” with Qatar, ending a virtual blockade that has endured for over three years.

“There is a desperate need today to unite our efforts to promote our region and to confront challenges that surround us, especially the threats posed by the Iranian regime’s nuclear and ballistic missile program and its plans for sabotage and destruction,” explained Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) after the six member states of the GCC signed a document expressing their “Gulf, Arab, and Islamic solidarity and stability.”

The foreign minister of Kuwait, which has acted as a mediator throughout the dispute, announced on Monday that Saudi Arabia would reopen its land and sea borders to Qatar after closing them in 2017. MBS was filmed embracing Qatari ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani when the latter’s plane arrived for the GCC summit:

MBS then took al-Thani on a tour of historic sites in Al-Ula, the city where the GCC summit was held.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Bahrain accused Qatar of supporting terrorism and growing too close to Iran when they launched the embargo in 2017. They gave Qatar a list of 13 demands to fulfill, including ending support for the Muslim Brotherhood and shutting down Qatar-based news network Al Jazeera.

“It was not immediately clear if Qatar accepted any of the demands previously listed by Riyadh and its backers in order to achieve the compromise announced on Monday. So far, Qatar did not publicly move on any of the issues,” Deutsche Welle wrote on Tuesday, tallying up the scorecard.

UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash said on Tuesday that the 13 demands were a “maximalist negotiating position” and should not be used to judge the success of the standoff with Qatar.

“I think what we end up with today is general outlines that basically govern relations between states that are party to the same organization. These are what I would call general outlines of how this relationship will move on, and I think we’re very satisfied with this and we want to build on it,” Gargash said.

Al Jazeera, still in business as of Tuesday, reported various Middle Eastern powers welcoming the reconciliation announcement, including Iran. 

“Congratulations to Qatar for the success of its brave resistance to pressure and extortion. To our other Arab neighbors: Iran is neither an enemy nor threat. Enough scapegoating, especially with your reckless patron on his way out. Time to take our offer for a strong region,” tweeted Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

The “reckless patron” Zarif referred to is U.S. President Donald Trump, whose administration presented the end of the Qatar feud as a result of American diplomacy. An administration official told Reuters on Monday that President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, “helped negotiate the deal and was working the phones on it until the wee hours of Monday morning.”

The official hailed the agreement as a “massive breakthrough” that would “lead to more stability in the region.”

Deutsche Welle quoted Middle East expert Samuel Ramani theorizing that Saudi Arabia ended the blockade of Qatar because it is worried about the realignment of U.S. foreign policy under the Biden administration.

“Biden views Mohammed bin Salman as a destabilizing force in the region and Saudi Arabia is desperate to shed this negative image. Ending the blockade against Qatar suggests that Saudi Arabia is interested in contributing to regional stability,” Ramani said.

France24 News noted there are still some lingering conflicts between Qatar and its neighbors, prominently including Egypt’s security concerns:

In a sign that hostilities continue to simmer, Qatar protested to the UN Security Council last month that Bahraini fighter jets “violated” Qatari airspace in early December. Bahrain, meanwhile, has accused the Qatari coast guard of arbitrarily detaining dozens of Bahraini fishing vessels.

Ahmed Hafez, the spokesman for Egypt’s Foreign Ministry, said last week that Cairo supports efforts to reach a resolution that respects “non-interference in internal affairs” in an apparent reference to Qatar’s backing of the Muslim Brotherhood. The conflict in Libya is also a contentious issue, with Egypt and the UAE supporting militias fighting a Tripoli-based bloc backed by Turkey and Qatar. 

Egypt has reportedly submitted its own list of demands to Qatar via Kuwait and has agreed in principle to reopen its airspace for Qatari flights while it awaits a response.

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