Saudi Arabia will reopen its air, land and sea borders with Qatar from Monday evening after a long-running conflict hit a breakthrough, Kuwait Foreign Minister Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah announced, reported Kuwait News Agency. Kuwait has been mediating the dispute between the two countries.
The development came a day before Saudi Arabia is expected to host a yearly summit of Persian Gulf states. The agreement between the two countries is likely to be signed on Tuesday. The Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani has agreed to attend the summit after accepting Saudi Arabia’s King Salman’s invitation.
“Keenness on unity among brethren, which will be crowned by signing the Al-Ula declaration tomorrow [Tuesday], would signal the turn of a new leaf in intra-Gulf relations, noted Sheikh Dr Ahmad Al-Sabah,” the state agency’s report said. “Expressing utmost gratitude for both leaderships in this regard, the agreement of opening the air, land and sea ports was based on a proposal by His Highness the Amir; nonetheless, noted the Kuwaiti Foreign Minister.”
In June 2017, a group of countries in West Asia made a diplomatic breakoff with Qatar after accusing it of supporting terrorist groups. Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain cut off links via land, sea, and air, and imposed an economic blockade. This was the most serious rift in decades among the countries, and came in the way of the United States’ efforts to unify Arab allies against the Islamic State terrorist group, according to The Washington Post. It is, however, not clear whether the other countries will end their actions against Qatar, Middle East Eye reported.
Qatar has refuted allegations against it, but the country’s purported backing of Islamist groups and hosting news channel Al Jazeera have remained a point of contention for Saudi Arabia and its allies for years.
As part of lifting the blockade, a list of 13 demands were reportedly made. This includes shutting the Doha-based Al Jazeera news network, ending Turkey’s military presence in Qatar, and snapping off bilateral ties with Iran.
“This has gone on for three and a half years, and nobody benefited from it,” Imad Harb, director of research and analysis at the Arab Center in Washington DC told Middle East Eye. “But the important part about it is more than just opening borders – it’s also that Saudi Arabia has realised that they cannot go on with the same old policy...now they are finding that maybe it’s time to really put things back together and try to put the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] back together.”
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman lauded the development, saying that the country’s decision was taken to enhance “the ultimate interests of the Gulf Cooperation Council member states and the Arab countries”.
The Donald Trump-led administration has taken a significant lead in mending the ties with Qatar, with a senior official in the government claiming that the outgoing American president’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner helped with the deal. He is also expected to attended the signing of the agreement, according to BBC.