Saudi Arabia and Gulf allies ‘to lift years-long blockade on Qatar, reopen borders’

Saudi Arabia and its regional allies are ending a years-long crippling blockade of Qatar and re-open borders in a breakthrough agreement, due to be signed on Tuesday.

The deal, first reported by both US and Kuwaiti officials, looks set to end a bitter rift between Gulf Cooperation Council countries and Qatar.

Kuwait’s foreign minister said in a televised comment that Riyadh had agreed to reopen its airspace, land and sea border to its tiny Gulf neighbour as of Monday.

Under the emerging agreement, the four countries will end the blockade of Qatar, and in exchange, Doha will not pursue lawsuits related to the blockade.

“We’ve had a breakthrough in the Gulf Cooperation Council rift,» the Trump official said.

The official added that the agreement will be signed at Tuesday’s annual Gulf Cooperation Council summit, where the GCC countries will come together with Egypt to end the blockade.

The development is the latest in a series of Middle East deals brokered by Washington aimed at bringing together its allies to build a united front against Iran. Most recently they involved Gulf and Arab countries recognising Israel, Washington’s closest regional ally.

Since mid-2017 Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt imposed a diplomatic, trade and travel embargo on Qatar accusing it of supporting terrorism largely because of its ties with the Muslim Brotherhood. Qatar denies it and says the embargo aims to undermine its sovereignty.

Its only land border has mostly been close since mid-2017 and its aircraft have been unable to fly over Saudi airspace, massively impacting the country.

The agreement dealt another diplomatic win for the White House, which has stepped up its efforts over recent months.

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, assigned to work on the dispute by US President Donald Trump, reportedly help negotiate,  working on it until the early hours of Monday morning, the Trump official told Reuters.

Kuwait, which alongside the US has been negotiating between the Arab countries for years, also announced details of the deal.

«An agreement has been reached to open airspace and land and sea borders between Saudi Arabia and Qatar as of this evening,» Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Ahmad Nasser al-Sabah said on Kuwait TV.

He said a declaration would be signed at Tuesday’s summit, which was postponed from its usual December date as Riyadh pushed for an agreement towards ending the rift.

The lifting of the embargo paves the way for Qatar’s emir to attend the meeting that will be held in the kingdom’s desert city of al-Ula and chaired by the Saudi monarch, King Salman.

In a sign of warming ties, last month Qatar’s leader, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, received a formal invitation from Saudi King Salman to the January 5 summit meeting of the six-nation GCC.

Saudi state agency SPA quoted Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as saying the annual gathering of Gulf leaders would unite Gulf ranks «in the face of challenges facing the region».

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