Cautious optimism precedes GCC summit

“We look forward to the Riyadh summit with optimism and hope," said UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash.
Sunday 08/12/2019
Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces Mohammed bin Zayed  al-Nahyan (R) and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz in Abu Dhabi, November 27. (DPA)
Seeing eye to eye. Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan (R) and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz in Abu Dhabi, November 27. (DPA)

LONDON - Ahead of the 40th Gulf Cooperation Council summit December 10 in Saudi Arabia, speculation in official circles and the international media about reconciliation with Qatar has picked up, particularly with Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani saying talks with Riyadh were progressing.

“In recent weeks we have moved from a stalemate to some progress. There are some talks that have taken place between us and, specifically, Saudi Arabia,” Thani said at the Mediterranean Dialogue Forum in Rome. “We hope these talks will lead to a progress where we can see an end to the crisis.”

Qatari media reported that Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud invited Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani to attend the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Riyadh.

Though Qatari media did not indicate whether Sheikh Tamim would attend the meetings, its reporting marked a significant departure from last year when they were quick to suggest that he would not.

The summit and invitation to Sheikh Tamim have been viewed with optimism, particularly from Kuwaiti officials who have been working to resolve the dispute between Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt — countries that severed ties with Qatar in June 2017.

The Arab countries boycotting Qatar issued a list of demands for Doha to comply with, including dropping its support for the Muslim Brotherhood movement and curtailing its ties with Iran, rejected by the Qataris as transgressing on their country’s sovereignty.

However, Kuwaiti officials suggest there may be an end to the dispute.

“Some steps towards resolving the conflict were achieved,” said Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sabah al-Khalid al-Sabah, adding that “the Riyadh summit will be a good phase.”

Kuwaiti Deputy Foreign Minister Khalid Al Jarallah told Kuwaiti media: “There are indications that the chapter of disagreement between brothers will be closed.”

The Wall Street Journal reported there is more happening behind the scenes than Gulf officials have let on.

The Journal said Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani made an unannounced trip to Riyadh in October to meet with top Saudi officials. He said Qatar was “willing to sever its ties with the Muslim Brotherhood,” one of the chief demands of the Arab Quartet.

Preceding that visit were several rounds of intense diplomacy, mostly mediated by Kuwait, with some of the meetings taking place on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Japan last summer, reported the Journal.

Arab officials view the proposal by Doha to sever ties with the Muslim Brotherhood as the most promising opportunity to end the dispute. However, a lot of scepticism remains.

“Saudi Arabia is considering Qatar’s proposal but so far it is not clear whether the parties can agree,” an Arab official told the Journal.

Additionally, there is the question of whether the United Arab Emirates sees the Qatari pledge as a genuine starting point to re-establish relations. The Journal report said Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan remained “sceptical.”

Recent comments from UAE officials projected optimism concerning the GCC summit. UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said the Emirates looks forward to the summit.

“We look forward to the Riyadh summit with optimism and hope,” Gargash said on Twitter. “It is the summit that derives its importance from the weight and strategic importance of the region and its venue.”

“We have a firm belief in the Gulf and Arab role of the sisterly Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. So is our commitment to the success of the march of the Gulf Cooperation Council at the time of disintegration and anxiety,” he added.

Gargash expressed the United Arab Emirates’ commitment to Gulf cooperation in dealing with imperative issues in the region. “The UAE’s commitment to the Gulf institutional bloc is rooted in the depth of its keenness on the stability and prosperity of the region,” he tweeted.

The depth of Saudi-UAE relations needs to be considered by Doha, observers said.

Recently, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz met with Sheikh Mohammed in Abu Dhabi for the second meeting of the Saudi-Emirati Coordination Council, with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed stressing that Saudi-UAE relations were based on cooperation and consensus in views on all bilateral and regional issues.

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