Four Arab countries cut off all ties with Doha in 2017. Now Kuwait is stepping in as a mediator between Saudi Arabia and Qatar as it readies itself with a meeting with the US President.
It started two years ago in June: Four Arab countries decided to impose an air, land and sea blockade on Qatar.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt said Qatar supported “terrorism” and was too friendly with Iran and therefore they would no longer sustain any diplomatic and trade ties with Doha.
Qatar denied the accusations and noted that there was "no legitimate justification" for the four Arab countries to cut all ties.
Qatar went to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), accusing the United Arab Emirates of violating the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). The ICJ accepted three out of the nine provisional measures requested by Qatar.
An International Monetary Fund (IMF) analysis of the blockade on Qatar notes that “availability of buffers has enabled Qatar to successfully absorb the adverse shocks from the 2014–16 decline in oil prices and the 2017 diplomatic rift.”
The report adds that while “stronger real GDP growth is envisaged in the near term, with a recovery in hydrocarbon output,” there is a risk that “trade and geopolitical tensions could undermine investor confidence and weaken fiscal and external positions.”
A flurry of activity
On September 12, 2019, Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah al Ahmad al Jaber al Sabah is scheduled to hold a summit with US President Donald Trump. Before the visit takes place, there has been a flurry of messages between Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Al Jazeera reports.
First, the Saudis told the Kuwaitis verbally: the Saudi Minister of State and Member of the Council of Ministers Prince Turki bin Mohammed bin Fahd al Saud conveyed the message of Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the Emir of Kuwait.
Then the Kuwaiti National Assembly Speaker Marzouq Al Ghanim wrote to the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
The Emir of Qatar responded to Kuwait two days later. The Emir’s personal representative Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad al Thani visited the Emir of Kuwait at his residence in Salwa.
Speculation is rife that there could be a thaw in the making.
Until positive results are reached
Al Jazeera reports that the Kuwaiti Deputy Foreign Minister Khalid Al Jarallah told AJ the efforts of the Emir of Kuwait are continuous and will not stop until positive results are reached.
The US Ambassador to Kuwait Lawrence Silverman was on record saying at a news conference that the Gulf crisis will be on the agenda when the US President and the Emir of Kuwait meet next week.
The departing ambassador said, according to Kuwaiti Times, that “His Highness the Amir has done a tremendous job to find a solution and create dialogue within GCC countries, yet the issue remains unresolved.”
"I am sure that the Gulf dispute will be on the list of issues that the Emir of Kuwait will raise during his meeting with the US president," Silverman also said, according to the Teller Report.
"I believe that his solution remains a high priority for the Emir of Kuwait to this day, just as it is for us, and I am sure there will be serious discussion on it and on how best to restore the full unity of the Gulf Cooperation Council."
Kuwait has long acted as a mediator in the region. Abdul Hadi Al Ajmi, chairman of the history department at Kuwait University, told Gulf News that Kuwait has been an esteemed mediator even before it became independent in 1961 and continued assisting neighbouring countries as a peacemaker afterwards as well.
Another academic interviewed by Gulf News, Fayez Al Nashwan, professor of international relations at Kuwait University, said the past trauma of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait has allowed the country to establish relatively normal relations with Iran as a counterbalance.
“Therefore, Kuwait prides itself on serving as a peacemaker between Saudi Arabia and other GCC member countries, on the one hand, and Tehran, on the other hand,” Al Nashwan said.
Why the change?
Kuwaiti writer and political analyst Saleh al Mutairi is quoted by Al Jazeera as saying that the signs from Saudi Arabia signal readiness for dialogue and a possible end to the crisis.
Mutairi added that Saudi Arabia is having a change of heart possibly because of its failures in Yemen as well as the Iranian-American crisis.
Likewise, another Kuwaiti writer and political analyst Al Jazeera quoted, Hussein Jamal, agrees with Mutairi that the Yemeni crisis is a critical turning point behind the change in attitudes. Jamal says in Yemen Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are at odds, and Riyadh is looking to resolve its disputes with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.
According to Jamal, this attitude benefits Qatar and the Gulf crisis. Jamal noted that Kuwait agreed with Qatar that Doha’s sovereignty should not be compromised and that Qatar was trying to avoid impossible demands imposed on it by the four Arab countries.