GCC leaders to meet in Saudi Arabia next week
Iran and Yemen to be high on council's agenda in Riyadh summit
An annual Gulf Co-operation Council summit will convene in Riyadh next week with security concerns expected to dominate the talks amid signs that Qatar could emerge from its regional isolation.
The December 10 meeting will aim for stabilisation, including ways to end the war in Yemen, resolve the Qatar crisis and establish the regional position against what Riyadh and its allies regard as Iranian threats, officials in the region and abroad said.
Although the UN-led peace process for Yemen is still focused on implementing last December’s Hodeidah agreement, Saudi Arabia said it has channels of communication to the Houthi rebels and will continue to pursue a political solution.
This comes as preparations are under way in Riyadh for hosting the Group of Twenty summit next year, with Saudi Arabia looking to smooth the regional situation as it takes over presidency of the G20.
With its geographical and economic heft, Saudi Arabia has been a guarantor of the six-country GCC.
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Gargash said the UAE, together with Saudi Arabia, remains strongly committed to the GCC at a time of “dispersion and worry”.
Dr Gargash said on Twitter that the GCC is at the centre of the UAE’s “vision for a stable and prosperous region” and that Saudi King Salman is a key unifying figure in this regard.
In 2011, Riyadh called for the GCC to become a union but that vision remains unimplemented over issues such as the dispute with Qatar and concerns about its regional policies.
As is customary, Saudi Arabia as the host country issued invitations to all the GCC heads of state for next week’s meeting, the group’s 40th summit, including Qatar’s Sheikh Tamim.
A statement by the GCC said its secretary general, Abdul Latif Al Zayyani, delivered this week on behalf of King Salman an invitation for Sheikh Tamim to attend the meeting.
Mr Al Zayyani has also visited other senior GCC officials to make similar invitations. On Tuesday, he met Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, to pass on an invitation for the President, Sheikh Khalifa, to attend.
The GCC meeting comes as Riyadh and Doha appear to have taken tentative steps towards de-escalation in the more than two-year rift.
In 2017, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar, accusing it of interfering in others’ internal affairs and supporting terrorist groups.
In previous GCC summits since the start of the crisis, Qatar has sent a low-ranking official to represent Doha. A significant indicator of any move to ease tensions will be if Sheikh Tamim attends next week’s meeting.
Doha highlighted the invitation in state media, noting Saudi Arabia’s guardianship of the holiest Islamic sites, but did not say whether Sheikh Tamim would attend.
Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani, attended two emergency meetings convened by King Salman in Makkah in May for the GCC and the Arab League. The meetings were a response to Iranian security threats, four months before the September 17 attack on Saudi Aramco oil processing facilities.
But Qatar later disputed the meeting’s concluding statements, which condemned Iranian interference in the region’s affairs. Its criticism of the position of other players highlights the wide range of issues that still define the Gulf dispute.
Qatar is a haven for the Muslim Brotherhood, an organisation outlawed in much of the GCC but backed by Doha. Its close ties with Iran, as well as military links with Turkey, since 2017 have widened the gap between Doha and the other GCC states.
While two European political sources who follow Gulf relations said there is a possibility of ending the Qatar boycott, they said normalisation is a way off and stumbling blocks remain.
The two sources who spoke to The National pointed to Doha and Riyadh’s close US ties. One of the sources said that the US role, as well as mediation by Kuwait, make it more likely that Sheikh Tamim will attend.
The same source said US President Donald Trump has been lobbying for the end of the Qatar crisis and fostering closer ties among US allies in the region – especially at a time of tensions with Iran.
The source said that the new head of the GCC, Kuwaiti Finance Minister Nayef Al Hajraf who will become secretary general next year, is another positive factor.
Kuwait did not follow the move by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain to cut ties with Qatar and has instead positioned itself as a go-between.
But Mike Stephens, a research fellow for Middle East studies at the Royal United Services Institute, said while there have been signs of de-escalation, the presence of Sheikh Tamim next week in Riyadh is anything but guaranteed.
Mr Stephens said since the September 14 attack on Saudi Aramco, “the environment has changed quite dramatically” but major issues remain.
He said that if Qatar and the Arab Quartet did begin talks to end the crisis, with Sheikh Tamim possibly attending the Riyadh summit, Doha would still have to balance its new, closer relations with Iran and Turkey with expectations from its GCC neighbours.
Updated: December 6, 2019 02:35 AM