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Saudi Arabia still intransigent on Gulf crisis despite Qatar PM attending Mecca summit

Assaf's remarks came at the backdrop of summits held in the Muslim holy city [AFP]

Date of publication: 31 May, 2019

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The solution to the Gulf crisis is in Qatar's return to "the right path", Saudi Arabia's FM said on Friday at the backdrop of the Mecca summits attended by Doha.
A solution to the Gulf crisis is only possible if Qatar returns to "the right path", Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf said on Friday, implying that his country's position on the Qatar blockade has not changed despite Doha's presence in Mecca.

Assaf's remarks came at the backdrop of two back-to-back summits held in the Muslim holy city, in which Qatar was represented by Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser Al-Thani - Doha's highest-ranking official to visit the kingdom since the start of a Saudi-led boycott in 2017.

"The Saudi stance, like the other countries, is that we are looking for a solution for the causes of the problems and the crisis between these countries and Qatar," Assaf said.

"Hopefully, there will be a solution if Qatar comes back to the right path."

Saudi Arabia and its allies accuse Qatar of supporting Islamist movements and backing Iran - claims Doha rejects - and they have enforced bans on shipping, trade, direct flights, overflight and land crossings.

Despite that, Qatar participated in the Mecca summits as a "show of support" for a joint Arab-Islamic position, according to Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, the country's deputy prime minister and minister for foreign affairs.

"Qatar's participation [in the summits] held in Mecca is based on our support for a joint Arab-Islamic position, and a sign of our commitment to the security and stability of the region," he said in a tweet.

Awkward handshake

Among the rare gestures at the start of the summit on Thursday was handshake between the Qatari prime minister and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, pushed for by the Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah.

There was also a quick handshake between the Qatari official and the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

There were further visible signs of tension and disagreement among the Arab officials gathered in Mecca, after Iraq rejected the summit's final statement and was not a signatory to it.

The joint statement slammed Iran's "criminal acts" over sabotage attacks damaged four vessels, two of them Saudi oil tankers, in the Sea of Oman and twin Yemeni rebel drone attacks shut down a key Saudi oil pipeline.

The statement went further to back the US withdrawal from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal between major powers and Iran.

It expressed "support for the US strategy towards Iran" that has seen Washington tighten the screws on Iran's economy with crippling unilateral sanctions and deploy an aircraft carrier task force, B-52 bombers and an amphibious assault ship to the Gulf, along with additional troops.

A second summit is expected on Friday, which is set to focus largely on Palestinian statehood and independence.

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