For a while, it seemed like nothing and no moderation by Kuwait could rescue the worsening situation between Qatar and a quartet of nations boycotting it, namely Saudi, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt.
Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman’s overseas trip that has so far landed him in Egypt, with a scheduled stop in the UK today, and the US afterwards, could prove crucial in bringing the boycott to an end.
What are the arguments for putting an end to this GCC conflict, ongoing since June 5, 2017?
UK talks are key
UK’s daily the Guardian said Gulf states are considering plans to bring end to Saudi-led Qatar boycott.
“Qatar dispute is likely to be major topic of discussion between Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, pictured, and Theresa May starting today,” said the daily.
“Gulf states are studying plans to break the deadlock over the Saudi-led boycott of Qatar by persuading the two sides to agree to relax restrictions on civilian movements as the first step to a wider deal.”
Britain has been a country outspoken on the need to lift the blockade, arguing it has negatively impacted economies across the Gulf.
Now talks are around starting a mutual goodwill gesture designed to lead to the end of the nine-month boycott of the country by the quartet as the two sides would allow these countries’ citizens to travel freely.
As many as 10,000 Gulf citizens, most with relations in neighbouring states, have been affected by the land, sea and air restrictions.
Qatar’s alleged ties to terrorism, has fueled the spat, but the country denies any involvement with extremist activities in the region or elsewhere.
“The US wants the dispute ended partly because it fears it could drive the extraordinarily wealthy Qatar closer to Iran. The US would prefer a united Gulf willing to challenge Iran over its nuclear ambitions and foreign policy,” said the Guardian.
“Donald Trump will have a chance to test Saudi flexibility when the crown prince meets the US president in Washington after his UK visit on Wednesday and Thursday this week.”
US puts wheels in motion
According to daily GulfTimes, General Anthony Zinni, the special envoy of the US Secretary of State, discussed the “Gulf crisis and efforts to contain it” with Kuwaiti leaders two days ago, according to Kuwaiti Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Khaled al-Hamad al-Sabah.
The Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, met Zinni as well.
The Kuwaiti news agency (KUNA) reported that a Kuwaiti Cabinet session held talks pertained to “the Gulf crisis and efforts to contain it, in addition to the arrangements for the upcoming US- GCC Summit in May”.
The US team was on an official visit to the State of Qatar.
“According to earlier reports, Trump wants to bring Gulf leaders to Camp David for a show of solidarity with the United States. But he wants a breakthrough in the Gulf crisis before the potential summit of the six-country Gulf Cooperation Council in May,” said the daily.
IMF: Boycott impact lessening
Reuters said that the direct economic and financial impact for Qatar as a result of the diplomatic boycott with some Arab states is fading, quoting a report from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
“Qatar’s banking system has recovered from initial outflows and the economy is expected to grow 2.6% this year,” the IMF said in a report citing formal consultations with Qatar, according to Reuters.
“The country’s fiscal deficit is estimated to have narrowed to about 6% of GP in 2017 from 9.2% in 2016,” the IMF said.
Reuters said “Qatar’s foreign reserves with the central bank increased $2.9bn to $17.7bn,” quoting HSBC in a report to clients last Monday.
Saudi and Qatar play to a draw
Al Ahli, the first Saudi Arabian soccer team to travel to Qatar since a regional boycott of the country began drew with Al Gharafa 1-1 in Doha in the Asian Champions League on Monday.
Despite requests from the UAE and Saudi Arabia football bodies to play at neutral venues, the Asian Football Confederation insisted in January they play home and away as scheduled.