December 16, 2020
By Ghaida Ghantous and Aziz El Yaakoubi
DUBAI (Reuters) – An annual Gulf Arab summit has been put off to January while parties locked in a rancorous row that led to a boycott of Qatar work towards announcing a tangible deal, though a final resolution is likely to take longer, informed sources said.
The dispute, in which Saudi Arabia and its allies severed diplomatic, trade and travel ties with Qatar in mid-2017, has seen movement with Riyadh earlier this month saying a final solution was within reach.
The other nations involved were more circumspect when welcoming progress in mediation efforts by Kuwait and the United States, which wants Gulf Arabs to be united against Iran.
Four sources familiar with the matter said they expected an announcement to coincide with the summit, which is normally held in December and has not grouped Qatar’s emir together with leaders of the boycotting states since 2017.
A Gulf source said a deal, to be finalised by ministers ahead of the government leaders’ summit, could result in a set of principles for negotiations or a more concrete move involving reopening airspace to Qatar as a show of good faith.
“Things are moving fast but are still up in the air. Negotiations for a final resolution will take months and months,” the source said.
Another source close to the matter said that when Kuwait announced progress there had been promises that all leaders would attend the summit, but talks on reopening airspace, which Washington has been pushing for, had still run aground.
SAUDI TAKES LEAD ON QATAR
A foreign diplomat in the region, who also expected full participation at the gathering, said that a preliminary deal however may be followed by a renewed impasse.
The Saudis appeared more keen than their allies, the diplomat said, and Doha was willing to hold out for a comprehensive deal, especially given that U.S. President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to take a firmer stance with Saudi Arabia.
“The Saudis are keen to demonstrate to Biden that they are peacemakers and open to dialogue,” the diplomat said, adding that the Gulf powerhouse is likely to convince reluctant allies to fall into line.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and non-Gulf Egypt accuse Qatar of supporting terrorism, an allusion to Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood. Doha denies the charges and says the boycott aims to curtail its sovereignty.
The UAE is at cross purposes with Qatar in Libya and over the Muslim Brotherhood, also key issues for Cairo.
“If there are countries that still support terrorism and extremism in the region, then this will be a problem,” UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan told a news conference this week when addressing the dispute.
Qatar says any resolution should be based on mutual respect, including of foreign policy.
Doha had been set 13 demands, ranging from closing Al Jazeera television and shuttering a Turkish base to cutting links to the Muslim Brotherhood and downgrading ties with Iran.
A senior Omani diplomat said some issues like Turkey required more time but that “there are shifting sands” after a rare telephone call between Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last month.
“I see light at the end of the tunnel,” the diplomat said.
(Additional reporting by Marwa Rashad and John Irish; Editing by Mark Heinrich)