Are Saudi Arabia and Its Gulf Neighbors Close to Ending the Qatar Boycott?

Are Saudi Arabia and Its Gulf Neighbors Close to Ending the Qatar Boycott?
A Qatari flag flies in front of a banner showing King Salman of Saudi Arabia, in Riyadh, Dec. 9, 2019 (AP photo by Amr Nabil).

Saudi Arabia and its allies began the Qatar blockade in 2017 in an attempt to reorient Doha's foreign policy away from countries seen as inimical to Saudi interests. With Saudi leadership now facing several crises and increasingly willing to compromise, the two sides are inching closer to a resolution.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar appear to be closer to resolving a diplomatic feud that has isolated Doha from its neighbors since 2017, although wide gaps still remain. In an attempt to break the impasse, which has sharply divided the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council, Saudi Arabia recently invited Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, to attend the annual GCC summit in Riyadh on Dec. 10. Tamim in turn invited the Saudi national soccer team to participate in the 24th Arabian Gulf Cup, hosted by Qatar.

But while Saudi Arabia did ultimately compete in the tournament, Tamim decided to send his prime minister to the GCC summit instead. It was an unmistakable signal from Doha that while it wants to resolve some of its differences with its larger neighbor, it will continue to reject Saudi demands for deep changes in its foreign policy and regional footing. Tamim’s snub is also a sign that he believes Qatar can negotiate with Saudi Arabia from a position of strength, as Saudi leaders, embattled on a number of other fronts, badly need a win. As Qatar’s foreign minister recently told CNN, the two countries are still “at a very early stage” in the process of rebuilding trust.

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