RIYADH // Saudi Arabia and Qatar have agreed to fix their maritime borders, Saudi media reported yesterday, in a move that eases long-standing tensions between the two neighbours and could unlock regional infrastructure projects. The signing of the sea border agreement follows a resumption of diplomatic relations between Qatar and Saudi in March, after a six-year break. The Saudi ambassador was recalled from Doha in 2002 over television programmes aired by the Qatar-based Al Jazeera satellite channel that Riyadh deemed offensive.
"I think this is confirmation that what has happened over the last year is now in firm waters," said Neil Partrick, a Dubai-based political analyst. "They signed an agreement to complete land and maritime borders in 2001, but poor bilateral ties have meant that they have been unable to implement it." The two states also agreed to create a high-level council to address security, trade and political issues.
Disagreements over the Qatar-Saudi border led to violence in 1992 in which two people died. "The wider regional context is one in which there have been fears of a confrontation with Iran," said Mr Partrick. "They want to show a united front at a time when there may be a conflagration." In 2006, Saudi Arabia was reported to have raised objections to a US$3.5 billion (Dh12.8bn) gas pipeline project from Qatar to the UAE led by Dolphin Energy, which is majority-owned by Mubadala, the Abu Dhabi state investment company.
The kingdom reportedly sent letters of protest to Mubadala's minority partners, Total of France and Occidental of America, questioning the pipeline's sea route. The landmark project went ahead anyway and gas began flowing to Taweelah last year. The Dolphin project was first conceived as a regional grid that would also have extended to Kuwait, but the Kuwaiti leg was scrapped in 2005 because of Saudi territorial objections.
In 2005, Riyadh also protested to Qatar and the UAE over plans to build a bridge linking the western region to the peninsula, saying it would pass through Saudi territorial waters, Saudi media reported at the time. The territorial disputes among the three countries are thought to have centred on land and inland waters of the Khawr al-Udayd, on the Qatari border, which was considered part of the UAE until a settlement in 1974 that also included an agreement on sovereignty over the Buraimi oasis.
* With agencies @Email:email@example.com