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GCC head arrives in Qatar from Riyadh amid hopes of breakthrough in ending Gulf spat

The Kuwaiti official landed in Doha on Sunday [Twitter/QNA]

Date of publication: 20 September, 2020

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Nayef Falaj Al-Hajraf, the Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] landed in Doha on Sunday.
A senior Gulf official flew directly from Saudi Arabia to the Qatari capital on Sunday, where he met the country’s foreign minister, state news reported.

Nayef Falaj Al-Hajraf, the Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] was received by Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani in Doha, Qatar News Agency said.

The meeting saw the two officials discuss the ongoing Gulf crisis that was triggered by an illegal land, air and sea blockade on Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt.

The four countries accused Doha - which maintains relations around the region and is home to broadcaster Al-Jazeera - of backing radical Islamists as well as Iran.

Qatar vehemently denied the accusations and last July won a ruling at the International Court of Justice regarding airspace restrictions imposed by the blockading countries.

Al-Hajraf had earlier this month met the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman.

In Kuwait - a key mediator in the region - the official discussed strengthening relations between the GCC member states with Foreign Minister Ahmed Nasser Al-Muhammad Al-Sabah.

Al-Hajraf, a Kuwaiti national, was appointed the Secretary-General of the GCC in April.

His visit to Doha comes amid increasing hints at an end to the 2017 blockade.

Earlier this month, a US official voiced guarded hope for an easing of the three-year blockade of Qatar by its Gulf neighbours amid a diplomatic push by Washington.

"There is some movement. I would like to say that it's going to be a matter of weeks," David Schenker, the top US diplomat for the Middle East, said at the Brookings Institution.

Schenker said the United States has been speaking with all sides but that the key players still had issues dividing them.

"There's not been a fundamental shift that makes this that we're going to push the door open right now, but in our talks we're detecting a little more flexibility," he said.

President Donald Trump, who has close relations with the Saudi and Emirati leaders, initially sided against Qatar, but the United States has since tried to ease tensions.

Washington is hoping for Arab support against Iran and has a major air base in Qatar.

The Trump administration has stepped up diplomacy in the Gulf as it seeks to showcase its achievements ahead of November elections.

Read also: GCC crisis explained: Why is Qatar under blockade by Saudi Arabia and its allies?

In recent weeks, the United States sealed a deal with the United Arab Emirates to recognise Israel and has separately worked with Qatar to negotiate with Afghanistan's Taliban.

On Thursday, a senior US official said the United States is working to name Qatar as a major non-NATO ally, a status that allows foreign nations with benefits in defence trade and security cooperation.

"We're going to move ahead, we hope, with designating Qatar a major non-NATO ally," Timothy Lenderking, the US deputy assistant secretary of state for Arabian Gulf affairs, said in a conference call with reporters..

Top American and Qatari officials, including US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Qatar's FM met in Washington earlier this week.

"Major non-NATO ally" (MNNA) status gives a country favourable access to US military equipment and technology, including free surplus material, expedited export processing, along with prioritised cooperation on training.

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