Complex Made Simple

GCC rift with Qatar may be mending and the US is in the middle of it

The stars appear to be aligning for Qatar to break a diplomatic and trade embargo with its Gulf neighbors and the US is playing an important role in this reconciliation

Saudi signaled progress may be underway towards resolving the three-year-old dispute with Qatar New Kuwait leader is keen to continue strengthening the GCC Qatar already participating in GCC economic and security talks

The stars appear to be aligning for Qatar to break a diplomatic and trade embargo with its Gulf neighbors and the US is playing an important role in this reconciliation.

Good Saudi signs 

In 2017, Saudi Arabia along with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt cut diplomatic and trade ties with Doha and imposed a sea, land, and air blockade on the country.

The four blockading nations accused Qatar of supporting “terrorism” and being too close to regional rival Iran, which Qatar vehemently denied.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan signaled progress may be underway towards resolving the three-year-old dispute with Qatar, following a meeting in Washington with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“We are committed to finding a solution,” Prince Faisal said in a virtual discussion hosted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, this Thursday.

“We continue to be willing to engage with our Qatari brothers, and we hope that they are as committed to that engagement. But we do need to address the legitimate security concerns of the quartet and I think there is a path toward that in the near future,” added the Prince.

The Trump administration has been pushing for an end to the blockade and paving the way for a united Gulf against Iran.

Backing the Trump administration’s hawkish approach to Iran, the Saudi minister said it will bring Iran back to the negotiating table for a “JCPOA ++”, a reference to the 2015 Iran deal from which US President Trump walked out in 2018.

Should presidential candidate Joe Biden win the presidency this November, it has been reported he would be more willing to bring back a new form of the JCPOA and this would lessen the tension in the region with respect to Iran and bodes well for Qatar to renew ties with Gulf neighbors.

Biden is likely to press much harder on Saudi and the UAE to end their blockade on Qatar.

Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani has said that his country is ready for dialogue to resolve the diplomatic crisis but stressed that any solution to the crisis must respect his country’s sovereignty.

Read: Crunch time for GCC economies’ oil price dilemma

Kuwait’s role

In June, Kuwait, a mediator between Qatar and its quartet of Gulf Arab neighbors, said there was progress towards resolving the standoff but little progress has been done.

On 12 October 2020, the new Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, announced his first position on the Gulf crisis and the blockade of Qatar saying Kuwait was “keen to continue strengthening the GCC”. 

The late Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah passed away in the US in late September and was dubbed the ‘voice of wisdom’ throughout the Gulf crisis.

Qatar already in GCC meetings

Qatar participated in the 10th meeting of the security media committee of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states. The meeting was recently held via video conferencing technology and discussed a number of issues related to security awareness.

 Qatar also participated in the thirty-third meeting of airport security officials in the GCC countries that was held via video conferencing technology.

Qatar also participated this Wednesday in the 45th Technical Council meeting of the GCC Standardization Organization.

The meeting discussed the implementation of the Authority’s strategic plan during 2016-2020 including facilitating trade exchange between member states, enhancing access to global markets, developing industry, small and medium enterprises, and ensuring consumer safety.

Read: Renewed calls to relocate FIFA World Cup 2022 away from Qatar

Cost of the blockade

According to the Brookings Institute, before the blockade, Qatar imported roughly 40% of its food overland through Saudi, and most of the rest via shipping routes that pass through the UAE ports of Dubai and Fujairah to refuel. Likewise, the UAE received roughly a third of its natural gas from Qatar via the Dolphin Energy pipeline. In 2015, the value of Qatar’s trade flows totaled over $2 billion with Saudi, $7 bn with the UAE, and $500 million with Bahrain.  

Cross-country investments from both sides total in the tens of billions of dollars. The Saudi banking sector’s exposure to Qatar was estimated to be around $30 bn. The UAE banking sector’s exposure is thought to be of similar magnitude. Before the crisis, there were over 70 flights a day between Qatar and its three Gulf neighbors.