GCC summit aims to consolidate ties between Qatar and Gulf states, experts say

Authorities will push for more engagement and help the organisation move past the dispute with Doha

The twin towers of the Olaya Center, a GOSI project, left, sit on the strip between Olaya and King Fahd roads in the Central Business District (CBD) of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, April 23, 2016. In the far background is the Kingdom Tower, operated by Kingdom Holding Co. with Al Olaya Street partially closed due to metro construction. Photographer: Waseem Obaidi for The National *** Local Caption ***  020Riyadh assignment_.jpg
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Gulf leaders will meet this week in Saudi Arabia to kick off the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) summit in the hope of keeping a united front and consolidating ties with Qatar, experts have told The National.

Riyadh will host the GCC's 42nd summit with senior officials from the region attending to discuss issues of security, economy and politics.

It will be the first time Gulf authorities will meet after signing the historic AlUla agreement in January in which Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman pushed for a deal to end a rift with Qatar that lasted for three and a half years.

“The summit is significant because it's happening in the aftermath of the AlUla reconciliation efforts,” said Dina Esfandiary, a senior adviser in the Middle East and North Africa team at International Crisis Group (ICG).

The meeting comes as “the GCC states embark on a more pragmatic foreign policy of engagement, including with Iran and Turkey,” Ms Esfandiary told The National.

“It will be interesting to see whether the tone of the summit will change — likely yes — and whether it will have more concrete outcomes,” she said.

The summit will be the most significant since the organisation was first established four decades ago, said Hussein Ibish, a senior resident scholar at Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

“First, it offers a crucial opportunity to consolidate the rapprochement between Qatar and formerly boycotting states the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain,” Mr Ibish told The National.

The meeting in Riyadh will strengthen the GCC and “undoubtedly reinforce the reintegration of Qatar into the GCC fold and help the organisation and Gulf Arab states move beyond the disputes that led to the boycott of Doha”, he said.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt cut diplomatic, trade and transport ties with Qatar in 2017 over its support for extremist groups.

Mr Ibish said “significant initiatives will be developed at the summit. It's very likely that new commercial arrangements and understandings will result, and entirely possible that additional defence-related measures will emerge".

The summit offers the GCC states an “opportunity to showcase leadership and unity after resolving the crisis with Qatar”, Sanam Vakil, deputy head for the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House, told The National.

Iranian policies in the region

Gulf leaders will also have the chance to discuss and “assemble a coordinated GCC approach towards the ongoing regional challenges with Iran”, Ms Vakil said.

In recent weeks, the UAE has taken steps to de-escalate tension with Iran to avoid confrontation and build confidence. said Anwar Gargash, diplomatic adviser to President Sheikh Khalifa.

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince arrives in Qatar

Mohamed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia meets with Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani upon his arrival in Qatar. Photo: SPA

For months the UAE has been supporting the idea of greater engagement with Iran. Dr Gargash said dialogue was the only way to avoid confrontation in the region and that further escalation would have a devastating effect, especially when governments are trying to consolidate economic recovery amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Saudi Arabia and Iran have engaged for the first time this year in direct face-to-face talks.

Representatives from Riyadh and Tehran have just concluded their fourth round of discussions in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

Next week's summit could give “Gulf countries an opportunity to better integrate their approaches to dealing with regional threats such as Iran and its network of armed non-state militia groups in neighbouring Arab countries”, Mr Ibish said.

For years the UAE has viewed Iran as a destabilising force in the region.

Iranian security forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and allied militias have engaged in attacks on oil tankers in vital global shipping lanes, including off the UAE coast, and a major attack on energy infrastructure in Saudi Arabia.

Updated: December 12, 2021, 11:58 AM