Qatar, Saudi Arabia hold summit to discuss regional issues
RIYADH--Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani will be visiting Saudi Arabia on Monday to attend a bilateral summit that will discuss regional developments.
The Qatari emir will arrive in Jeddah in western Saudi Arabia on a visit to the Kingdom at the invitation of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Saudi media reported.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz will be among those welcoming the emir at the King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah.
In late April, Sheikh Tamim received the Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah, who handed him an invitation from King Salman to visit the kingdom, the latest sign of improving relations between the two countries.
A Saudi diplomatic source said that the Saudi and Qatari sides will hold a summit to discuss the situation in the Arab Gulf region in light of international developments, including the nuclear talks with Iran and the ongoing clashes in Jerusalem, which have been marked by a violent Israeli response to Palestinian protests at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Bab al-Amud area and Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.
The two sides will also discuss the situation in Yemen and the recent developments in the Afghan peace process, the same source revealed, noting talks will cover “bilateral relations and ways to enhance them in all fields for the benefit of the two countries.”
Sheikh Tamim’s visit to Saudi Arabia will be the first since the holding of the Al-Ula reconciliation summit hosted by the Kingdom last January.
Ever since the reconciliation, there have been cautious steps towards normality, including the resumption of air travel between the former adversaries and the reopening of Qatar’s sole land border with Saudi Arabia.
Qatar has made extensive moves to build on the reconciliation momentum, observers said, noting that Doha is preparing for a new phase that will particularly depend on its commitment to appeasement.
Riyadh and allies broke off ties with Qatar in June 2017 over claims it was too close to Iran and backed radical Islamist groups, allegations Qatar has always denied.
But in January, the boycotting countries agreed to reestablish Qatari ties following a flurry of diplomatic activity by former US president Donald Trump’s administration.
During the Gulf diplomatic crisis, Qatar maintained good relations with Iran and steered clear of the tensions that dominated the relationship between Tehran and most Arab Gulf capitals over the past few years.
Regional observers had earlier considered that Qatar is a candidate alongside Iraq to conduct mediation if Riyadh was to press ahead with dialogue with Tehran.
Tehran and Riyadh cut ties in 2016 after Iranian protesters attacked Saudi diplomatic missions following the kingdom’s execution of Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.
In recent years, Saudi Arabia and Iran have backed opposing sides in several regional conflicts, from Syria to Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is fighting the Houthi militias.
Iran supports the Houthis, who have launched several rocket and drone attacks against Saudi targets.
Concerned about Iran’s regional influence, Riyadh has repeatedly accused Tehran of interfering in the affairs of Arab countries such as Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. Riyadh also remains apprehensive about Iran’s nuclear programme and missile capabilities.
On Monday, Iran’s foreign ministry for the first time confirmed the Islamic republic is holding talks with regional rival Saudi Arabia, but said it is “too soon” to discuss the results.
The talks that took place in Baghdad came during negotiations in Vienna that aim to return the United States to the 2015 nuclear accord and persuade Iran to implement nuclear commitments it suspended in response to US sanctions.
Saudi Arabia had opposed the nuclear pact between global powers and Iran for not addressing Tehran’s missile programme and regional behaviour.
Last week, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said that Gulf Arab states and Iran need to agree on a format to address concerns and ease regional tensions.
“The GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) needs to sit with Iran and agree on a regional format among us to address the concerns of the GCC and any concerns that Iran has as well,” he said.
Over recent months, Saudi Arabia has been working to strengthen relations with Qatar. Analysts, however, say the ball now remains in Qatar’s court and Doha has to show its commitment to promoting reconciliation.
According to observers, Doha should interact positively with the reconciliation by siding with Riyadh in the face of Iranian influence, which threatens the security and stability of the entire region.