Riyadh, Doha move towards ‘coexistence’ in appeasement deal

After U.S. and Kuwaiti mediations, the Saudis and Qataris are closer to accepting to “coexist” rather than to reach a comprehensive reconciliation deal that resolves all aspects of the dispute.

The short speech delivered by the Kuwaiti Foreign Minister, Sheikh Ahmed Nasser Al-Sabah, did not give sufficient information regarding the details of the appeasement agreement between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with Kuwaiti and American mediation.

But this appeasement deal appeared, in the end, to be nudging both parties towards accepting to “coexist” rather than reaching a comprehensive reconciliation deal that resolves all elements of the dispute. The main goal of the agreement was to accommodate both parties, so as to make Qatar feel that it has beaten the boycott while Saudi Arabia does not give the impression it made any concessions.

On Friday, Sheikh Ahmed Nasser Al-Sabah said that “fruitful” discussions took place during the last period to resolve the Gulf crisis.

He added, in a speech broadcast by Kuwaiti TV, that these talks “in which all parties reaffirmed their keenness on Gulf and Arab solidarity and stability and to reaching a final agreement that would achieve what they aspire to in terms of lasting solidarity between their countries and for the good of their people”.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan expressed his hope that Kuwaiti and American efforts to resolve the Gulf conflict would be successful, thanking the two countries for “converging views”.

“We have made great progress towards solving the Gulf crisis in recent days, and we are close to reaching an agreement between all the countries involved in the dispute,” he added.

The Qatari Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Muhammad bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, thanked Kuwait and the United States for their efforts to resolve the Gulf dispute, saying that the statement issued by the Kuwaiti Foreign Minister regarding the crisis “is an important step towards solving the Gulf crisis”.

“The statement of the State of Kuwait is an important step towards solving the Gulf crisis,” the Qatari minister said. “We thank Kuwait for its mediation since the beginning of the crisis, and we also appreciate the U.S. efforts made in this regard,” he added.

Sheikh Muhammad bin Abdulrahman had previously said at the Mediterranean Dialogues conference held in Rome via video link that “any solution to the Gulf conflict must be comprehensive”, in a statement that observers considered that it sets preconditions that may impede the efforts to calm the situation down led by Kuwait and the United States.

Two parallel timelines stand out, with different goals for Doha and Riyadh. There is Qatari procrastination aimed at draining Saudi Arabia’s nerves until President Joe Biden arrives at the White House at the beginning of the new year. And there is Saudi patience, primarily due to Riyadh having obtained long-term guarantees that Qatar will not repeat promises and break them with regard to media campaigns and links to Iran, Turkey, and militant groups.

Gulf circles following the path of Kuwaiti mediation say that Doha and Riyadh are looking for a breakthrough, but the closest thing they’re likely to achieve is a kind of “coexistence” without too many open dealings between the leaders, but at least leaving the public and economic affairs out of the crisis.

Such an arrangement would be satisfactory to both parties, as Qatar would feel that it has succeeded to break its isolation, while Saudi Arabia appears in the role of the magnanimous elder sister that has accepted a truce in response to mediation and to preserve the unity of the Gulf ranks, without any of the sides of the conflict making any concessions.

These circles indicated that U.S. President Donald Trump’s advisor Jared Kushner’s visit to Doha and Riyadh may facilitate the development of confidence-building “steps” but will not resolve the crisis by virtue of the fact that the boycott is a very complex political issue, and the parties to the conflict have invested in it morally, politically and at the popular level. There are also many details that must be ironed out before talking about reconciliation, chief among them is addressing the regional dimension of the crisis and the Iranian and Turkish interventions.

On the surface, the reconciliation file appears to be a Gulf issue, but in reality, it is a broad regional issue that went beyond the issue of the Muslim Brotherhood and support for Islamist movements or the file of Al-Jazeera Channel and the media.

“There are different levels of disengagement in this crisis that need to be worked on,” said Cinzia Bianco, a visiting researcher at the European Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin.

“It may start between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, but it is difficult to imagine – according to current data – that the UAE will be part of this trend,” she added.

Nayef al-Hajraf, Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council praised the Kuwaiti statement, but called for “staying away from everything that could provoke or inflame differences and focus instead on what strengthens and supports solidarity in the council’s march and enhancing its ability to face challenges.”

For his part, Badr bin Hamad al-Busaidi, Omani Minister of Foreign Affairs, welcomed the Kuwaiti statement, expressing his country’s appreciation for Kuwait’s efforts to achieve the aspirations of the peoples of the region towards unity and understanding.

Ahmed Abul Gheit, Secretary-General of the Arab League, also praised the efforts made by Kuwait at the current stage “in order to heal the rift, achieve reconciliation and support and achieve solidarity and stability in the Gulf and Arab countries”.

Abul Gheit affirmed that “every sincere Arab effort aiming at ending Arab disputes on the basis of frankness, openness, and mutual respect, is tantamount to strengthening Arab action”.

During his visit to Qatar on Wednesday, Kushner reportedly raised the issue of the Gulf crisis and sought to make progress towards ending the dispute.

Not many details have transpired from Kushner’s visit, which may have been his last opportunity to push for resolving outstanding diplomatic disputes in the region that have become the focus of efforts of the outgoing president’s administration.

After Saudi Arabia closed its airspace, Qatari planes were forced to overfly Iran, the traditional rival of Riyadh and Washington, and pay exorbitant fees to Tehran in return.

The New York Times reported, citing diplomatic sources, that Qatar pays $100 million annually to fly over Iranian airspace.

National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said in November that allowing Qatari planes to fly over Saudi Arabia via an “air bridge” was a priority for the Trump administration.  

(This article was originally published in the Arab Weekly and is reproduced by permission.)