Riyadh to end Qatar blockade as 'gift' to Biden

Saudi Arabia to end Qatar blockade as 'gift' to Joe Biden: report
3 min read
28 November, 2020
A Saudi analyst close to the royal court said the kingdom is seeking ways to resolve the Qatar blockade and subsequent GCC crisis "as a gift" to the Biden administration.
Saudi Arabia is searching for a resolution to the crisis [Getty]
Saudi Arabia is reportedly searching for a resolution to the three-year long Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] crisis as a way to enhance relations with the incoming Biden presidency, according to reports.

The crisis was triggered by an illegal air, land and sea blockade on Qatar in June 2017, when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed ties with Doha over false allegations it supports terrorism.

Qatar has vehemently denied the allegations and remained consistent on its stance throughout the ordeal.

"This is a gift for Biden," Ali Shihabi, a Saudi analyst close to the royal court, said, according to a Financial Times report.

He added that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman "feels that he is in the line of fire" after Biden's victory, and wants to deal with Qatar as a "signal he is willing and ready to take steps".

"For some time, they have been working on closing many hot files and clearly this is one," he added.

The potential resolve to the crisis could score points with the incoming president who has already proven to be critical of MbS for rights violations, including the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the deadly Yemen war.

The remarks come following weeks of reported diplomatic moves to end the blockade.

The national security advisor to US President Donald Trump, Robert O'Brien said Washington is working on the last diplomatic push to resolve the crisis, expressing hopes for an end to the blockade in the next 70 days.

"I'd like to see that get done before - if we end up leaving office - I'd like to see that get done in the next 70 days. And I think there's a possibility for it," O'Brien told The Hill at the 2020 Global Security Forum last week.

"It's in America's interest to have harmonious relationships within the [Gulf Cooperation Council] because that provides an important counterbalance to Iran," O'Brien said.

"It would open up the opportunity for more peace deals with Israel and creating a real economic opportunity zone across the Middle East and even being able to take that out to other parts of the Muslim and the Arab world."

The quartet imposed wide-ranging punitive measures including banning Qatari planes from passing through their airspace, closing the Gulf state's only land border with Saudi Arabia, and expelling Qatari citizens.

The move dealt a blow to the Gulf Cooperation Council, of which Qatar is a member.

But according to Shihabi, Kuwaiti mediators working to resolve the crisis secured a new deal to replace the list of 13 demands that were initially presented to Doha. The new deal aims to "pave way for a kiss and make up", he said.

However, a person briefed on Doha's position said that no details of confidence-building measures had been discussed, the Financial Times report said.

The comments came amid conflicting reports over potential moves to end the crisis.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan has in recent weeks suggested the kingdom was "committed to finding a solution".

However,  in an interview with Israeli media, the UAE's ambassador to Washington said there was little chance the blockade would be lifted any time soon.

"I don't think it gets resolved anytime soon simply because I don't think there has been any introspection," Yousef Al-Otaiba said on Israel's Channel 12.

"The introspection process did not occur, and they continue to play the victim and continue to pretend to be bullied, but did not address the root causes of the problem, and until you address the root causes of this problem, I do not think this is going to get solved,"  he added.

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