Saudi Arabia set to end three-year feud by reopening borders with Qatar

By Julian Borger

Saudi Arabia will reopen its land and sea borders with Qatar, in the first steps toward ending a diplomatic crisis that has deeply divided regional US allies since 2017.

Kuwait’s foreign ministry announced the move on Monday, as part of a deal towards resolving a political dispute that led Riyadh and its allies to impose a boycott on Qatar.

The state-run Kuwait news agency reported the announcement, saying Saudi Arabia would open its borders with Qatar from Monday evening. According to several reports, Qatar will, in return, drop its lawsuits against Riyadh and its allies, as part of a broader agreement to defuse tensions, due to be signed on Tuesday.

Qatar’s only land border has been mostly closed since mid-2017, when Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain launched a blockade against the tiny Gulf state, accusing it of supporting Islamist groups in the region and of having warm ties with Iran. Kuwait has been mediating between Qatar and the four Arab states.

The lifting of the embargo by Saudi Arabia paves the way for Qatar’s ruler to attend a summit of Gulf leaders on Tuesday that will be held in the kingdom’s desert city of Al-Ula and chaired by the Saudi monarch, King Salman.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit will be “inclusive”, leading the states towards “reunification and solidarity in facing the challenges of our region”, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was quoted as saying in remarks carried by the Saudi state-run news agency.

The foreign minister for the United Arab Emirates, Anwar Gargash, said he welcomed “a return to GCC unity at tomorrow’s summit”.

The decision by the close US allies comes in the final days of the Trump administration’s time in office, and just ahead of president-elect Joe Biden’s swearing-in. Bader al-Saif, assistant history professor at Kuwait University, suggested that the Trump team was claiming disproportionate credit for ending the standoff.

“Quite astounding how the current US admin is trying to milk “achievements” out of the region before it departs, whether in its push for normalization agreements or now claiming the current breakthrough,” Saif said on Twitter, adding that, though the Trump administration “played a role alongside Kuwait”, it had also been “part of the problem”.

Many Gulf experts have argued that Donald Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner’s personal support for the Saudi crown prince emboldened Riyadh to attempt its stranglehold on Qatar four years ago. Karen Young, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a scholar on the political economy of the Gulf, argued that “the breakthrough likely has more to do with a changed reality in Washington and Saudi need for recalibration; as well as changed fiscal reality of GCC states.”

Young said that Qatar was needed in the GCC “tent” but pointed out that the Gulf rivals’ broader visions for the region were still at odds.