Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies have agreed to restore diplomatic relations with Qatar, ending a three-year boycott of the gas-rich state.
Known as the Arab quartet, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt initially severed diplomatic ties with Doha in mid-2017 following accusations the state had been supporting terrorism. Qatar denies such claims. For three years, the Qatari border with Saudi Arabia was closed and those participating in the boycott closed their airspace and maritime borders to any Qatari aircraft and vessels.
“Whether it’s the returning of diplomatic relations, flights… all of that will go back to normal”, said Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal.
The signing, which was mediated by Oman and Kuwait, took place during the Gulf Cooperation Council summit in the Saudi city of al-Ula. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his regional allies provided a warm welcome to Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim Al Thani as the pair embraced at the airport.
Details of the agreement are currently unclear but Sheikh Tamim described the restoration of relations as a “defining moment”, adding: “I thank the brothers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the generous welcome and I thank the brotherly state of Kuwait for its valued efforts”.
A persistent issue within the region lays in Qatar’s close relationship with Iran, the state Saudi Arabia views as its main rival. Doha maintains close ties with Tehran, a concern Qatar’s neighbours had cited upon the initial declaration of the three-year boycott. During the meeting in al-Ula, the Saudi Crown Prince urged other Arab states to form a coalition to counter the Iranian state.
He said: “There is a desperate need today to unite our efforts to promote our region and to confront challenges that surround us, especially the threats posed by the Iranian regime’s nuclear and ballistic missile programme and its plans for sabotage and destruction”.
However, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted his congratulations to Qatar “for the success of its brave resistance to pressure and extortion”.
Despite the agreement, the UAE and Qatar still remain divided over certain issues, with Doha’s close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and its support for rival factions in Libya remaining a cause for concern. Speaking on the arrangement, UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash appeared cautious as he said: “Of course, you always know that following a rift such as the one that we have had, the issue of rebuilding confidence is one that takes time, takes some energy, and takes a lot of transparency”.