Kuwait wants Qatar to seize rare ‘reconciliation opportunity’

Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmed Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah delivered a message to Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani at the Amiri Diwan office on Wednesday morning.
Monday 30/11/2020
Envoy of Kuwait Amir delivers written letter to Bahrain’s King. (KUNA)
Envoy of Kuwait Amir delivers written letter to Bahrain’s King. (KUNA)

KUWAIT CITY – Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani received Wednesday a written message from Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah.

Informed Gulf sources, who spoke to The Arab Weekly on condition of anonymity, said the message probably conveyed Kuwait’s concern about Qatar’s rigid position ahead of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit to be held in Saudi Arabia on January 5.

As well as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the GCC includes Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

In June 2017, Saudi Arabia led its allies the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt to cut ties with Qatar, saying it was too close to Iran and funding radical Islamist movements — charges Doha denies.

After severing ties, the four countries issued a list of 13 demands for Qatar, including that it shut down its broadcaster Al Jazeera.

The Saudi-led quartet subsequently forced Qataris to leave, closed their airspace to Qatari aircraft and sealed their borders and ports, separating some mixed-nationality families.

Doha has so far sent negative signals about the possibility of achieving progress towards ending its dispute with three boycotting Gulf neighbours.

During a preparatory meeting for the 41st Gulf summit, Qatar had downgraded its representation. The virtual meeting of the GCC’s foreign was held in the Bahraini capital Manama ahead of a regional summit next month.

A statement released by the Qatari Emiri Diwan stated that the message of the Kuwaiti emir was handed over by Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmed Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah, during his meeting with Sheikh Tamim at the Amiri Diwan office on Wednesday morning.

The Kuwaiti minister’s visit to Qatar was not previously announced, which suggests that the message is possibly linked to the upcoming GCC summit and the consultations that are taking place to secure a Qatari attendance to the level of a reconciliation summit.

The Qatari Amiri Diwan said in its statement that the message pertained “to the solid fraternal ties between the two countries and the prospects for enhancing and developing them, in addition to a number of issues of mutual interest.”

Gulf sources had earlier said that the participation of the Qatari Emir in the 41st Gulf summit in the Saudi city of Al-Ula remains uncertain, because Doha wants a positive signal – or at least a “goodwill gesture” – from Riyadh to justify Sheikh Tamim’s attendance of the upcoming summit.

This “goodwill gesture” could be the reopening of the airspace or the land borders between the two countries under a humanitarian pretext, in light of the Gulf countries’ efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

The sources, however, said Qatar is unlikely to score such “a gain” before the summit.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain will not accept any preconditions, the sources said, noting that any decision to make concessions will depend on the upcoming summit itself and the extent to which Qatar will positively respond to the demands of its neighbours.

Kuwait is escalating its efforts to persuade the Qatari Emiri to participate in the January summit so as to avoid upsetting Riyadh and Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

If the Qatari representation is not satisfactory, the sources warned, then that would automatically mean that Doha is unwilling to reconcile.

Any negative signals from the Qatari leadership, the sources added, may affect Kuwait itself, and force it to abandon its mediation drive.

The new leadership in Kuwait cannot put up with Qatar’s political and regional manoeuvres indefinitely, experts believe.

They argue that Kuwait, though extremely serious about its mediation drive, is not ready to jeopardise its strong ties with Saudi Arabia, especially with the new leadership focusing on national plans to stabilise the country and address pressing issues of utmost priority.

Sheikh Tamim received a “formal invitation” from Saudi King Salman to the January 5 meeting of the six-nation GCC in Saudi Arabia’s northwest Al-Ula province, the GCC said on Wednesday.

On Wednesday, Saudi’s cabinet said that it “wished for a successful summit to enhance joint action and enhanced cooperation between the country members,” according to a statement on the official Saudi Press Agency.

It follows comments earlier this month by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan who said that a resolution was in sight.

Egypt and the UAE have since given their public support to the negotiations.

According to a Gulf official close to the negotiations, it is unlikely the summit will deliver a comprehensive agreement but rather result in trust-building measures, including the possibility of opening up the airspace.

The potential thaw comes ahead of the January 20 inauguration of Joe Biden as US president, who is expected to welcome the resolution of a row which has undercut US efforts to rein in its arch-enemy Iran.

Earlier this week, Qatar’s foreign minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed the crisis by telephone.

“We believe that resolving the dispute is in the interest of all parties in the region, as well as in the interest of the United States,” a State Department official said.