Saudi Arabia nears agreement with Qatar as welcoming ‘gift’ to Biden

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
The handout photo released by the Qatar News Agency (QNA) on December 2, 2020, shows US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner (L), meeting with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in the capital Doha. (Via AFP)

Saudi Arabia and Qatar are reportedly close to reach a preliminary deal in a bid to resolve a dispute that has dragged on for three and a half years.

Speaking to NBC News on Friday, three informed sources reported a breakthrough in the latest discussions between Doha and Riyadh, mediated by Kuwait and the US.

The expected agreement comes after US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, toured the region as part of a last-ditch effort to end the rift among the Persian Gulf countries, before the Trump administration leaves office in January.

The sources said the deal would hinge on Saudi Arabia allowing Qataris to resume flights through the kingdom’s airspace and Doha would, in exchange, drop pending international lawsuits against Riyadh.

In June 2017, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE severed diplomatic and trade relations with Qatar and imposed an air, land and sea embargo on the energy-rich state.

The Saudi-led quartet accused Doha of supporting terrorism, presented it with a list of demands and gave it an ultimatum to comply with them or face consequences.

Qatar, however, denied terrorism charges and refused to meet the conditions laid out by the boycotting bloc, stressing that the country would not abandon its independent foreign policy.

The blockade led Qatar to forge closer ties with Iran and Turkey in order to broaden its trade options or reroute its flights.

US media said last week that the Trump administration has raised the prospect of rerouting Qatari commercial flights from the Persian Gulf country through Saudi Arabia’s airspace instead of over Iran, seeking "to deliver a last blow to Iran’s economy before President Trump leaves office."

The rerouting would cut Iran’s overflight revenues as the country has served as the only corridor for Qatari aircraft out of the region after Saudi Arabia and at least three of its neighboring nations imposed the air, land and sea embargo against Qatar in 2017.

On Friday, Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nasser al-Mohammad Al Sabah said in a speech broadcast by Kuwait TV that “fruitful” discussions had taken place to resolve the Persian Gulf crisis.

In the talks “all parties affirmed their keenness on Persian Gulf and Arab solidarity and stability and to reach a final agreement that would achieve what they aspire to in terms of lasting solidarity between their countries and the good of their people,” he added.

Later in the day, Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said he was “hopeful that things will move in the right direction right now.”

“We cannot predict whether it’s going to be imminent and it’s going to resolve the whole issue in one day,” he stressed during a virtual interview as part of the Mediterranean Dialogues conference.

Additionally, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan told the same conference that “significant progress” had been made in the Persian Gulf reconciliation talks over the past few days.

“We hope that this progress can lead to a final agreement which looks in reach, and I can say that I am somewhat optimistic that we are close to finalizing an agreement between all the nations in the dispute to come to a resolution that we think will be satisfactory to all,” he said.

Saudi ‘gift’ to Biden

Last week, The Financial Times reported that Saudi Arabia’s move to end the blockade of Qatar is viewed as an attempt by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to curry favor with the incoming US administration of Joe Biden.

Bin Salman enjoyed close ties with the Trump White House, but the next US government is expected to challenge him over the killing of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the bloody war on Yemen and the detention of activists, businessmen and senior royals.

“This is a gift for Biden,” said an adviser to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

The heir to the Saudi throne, he noted, “feels like he’s in the line of fire” after Biden’s victory in the presidential election and wants a deal with Qatar to “signal he is willing and ready to take steps.”

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