Saudi Arabia to reopen borders with Qatar; Ends the Gulf crisis

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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Saudi Arabia has agreed to reopen its borders and airspace to Qatar on Monday, in a breakthrough deal aimed at resolving the three-years-old political dispute that led the Kingdom and its allies to impose a ban on Qatar.

The full agreement is expected to be signed at the annual summit of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) leaders in the northwestern Saudi city of AlUla, attended by Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Tani.

According to a senior Trump administration official, the current border opening is an introduction for a wider agreement to end Qatar’s isolation from its Arab neighbors, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt.

The current deal would allow for commerce and travel between Saudi Arabia and Qatar for the first time since the Anti-Terror Quartet countries imposed a diplomatic, trade and travel blockade on Qatar in June 2017, accusing its rulers of supporting terrorism and Islamists in the region and of getting too close to Iran.

The recent mediation efforts have been led by Sheikh Nawaf Al-Sabah, the emir of Kuwait. “Based on Sheikh Nawaf’s proposal, it was agreed to open the airspace and land and sea borders between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the state of Qatar, starting from this evening,” Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmad Al-Sabah said.

White House special adviser Jared Kushner is expected to fly to the Kingdom to attend the GCC summit and witness the signing, along with US Middle East envoy Avi Berkowitz and Brian Hook, a special State Department adviser.

“At the signing on the 5th, leadership from the Gulf Cooperation Council plus Egypt will be coming together to sign an agreement that will end the blockade and put an end to the Qatari lawsuits. It’s just a massive breakthrough. The blockade will be lifted. It will allow for travel among the countries as well as goods. It will lead to more stability in the region,” the senior Trump administration official said.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman stated that the Kingdom’s policy was based on a firm approach that achieved the national interests of the GCC and Arab countries, to attain security and stability.

“The GCC summit will be an inclusive summit, unified in ranks and focused on prosperity, in terms of reunification and solidarity in facing the challenges in our region,” the crown prince added.

“We stand before a historic summit in AlUla, through which we restore our Gulf cohesion and to ensure security, stability and prosperity is our top priority. We have more work ahead and we are headed in the right direction,” the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash tweeted.

The background story

Qatar’s close relations with Turkey and Iran have eroded the regional security. Egypt and the UAE considered Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood as a security threat and have considered the group a terrorist organization. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain were primarily concerned with Qatar’s close ties with regional rival Iran.

In 2017, these tensions boiled up and the four countries decided to cut all transport and diplomatic links with Qatar. The move frayed social ties and some families were left unable to see relatives who lived on the other side of the divide.

Since then, Qatar has depended enormously on its natural gas wealth to become more self-sufficient and build stronger relationships with both Iran and Turkey. Meanwhile, Qatar denied the allegations on its support towards Islamist groups indicates support for violent extremists.