Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Gulf states are expected on Tuesday to sign an agreement to end a diplomatic crisis in the Gulf after three and a half years.
The Big Picture: A Saudi-led coalition cut ties with Qatar in 2017 and closed its airspace and sea routes to Qatari planes and ships, citing Qatar’s alleged support for terrorist groups and ties with Iran. In recent weeks, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have come under pressure from the Trump administration to end the row.
- The United States maintains close relations with both Qatar and its adversaries, but the Trump administration’s several previous attempts to reconcile the two have been unsuccessful.
- Both countries in the Gulf see the signing of the agreement as a gesture of the Trump administration and part of their effort to “clean the table” to prepare for the incoming Biden administration.
- Jared Kushner mediated between the two parties and traveled to Saudi Arabia to participate in the signing during the Gulf Cooperation Council summit this week.
Last: Prior to the signing of the agreement, the Kuwaiti Minister of Foreign Affairs announced that Saudi Arabia and Qatar would open their land, air and sea borders, starting from Monday evening.
News Lead: Kushner traveled to the GCC summit in Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia, with White House envoy Avi Berkowitz and Chancellor Brian Hook, who helped negotiate the agreement.
- The summit will be the first time that the Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, visits Saudi Arabia since the outbreak of the crisis in 2017. It will also be attended by leaders of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Kuwait.
- The leaders will sign an agreement that includes three confidence-building measures: Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain lift the air and sea blockade of Qatar. Qatar withdraws all lawsuits against its three Gulf neighbors. All parties will stop their media campaigns against each other.
behind the scenes: The deal was reached in principle during Kushner’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia and Qatar several weeks ago, during which he met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Sheikh Tamim. Kushner has close ties to both leaders.
- US officials say that after meeting the Saudi crown prince, Kushner traveled to the Qatari capital, Doha, with Hawke while his close aides left Berkowitz and Adam Buehler in Saudi Arabia. The two sides brokered talks between the Saudis and the Qataris over the phone in real time until a draft agreement is reached.
- Officials tell me that in the past few weeks, final discussions have been held with the Saudis and Qataris to ensure that both sides adhere to the understandings reached.
- The White House has also put pressure on the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt – all of whom have reservations about the agreement, because they view Qatar in a negative light and do not believe the Qataris are sincere.
- The deal nearly collapsed on Sunday when a last-minute misunderstanding led to new tensions between the Saudis and the Qataris, sources familiar with the matter told me.
- Kushner and his team were supposed to leave on Sunday afternoon, but they postponed their trip. A source told me that Kushner and his team were forced to negotiate with the Saudis and Qataris on Sunday night until a solution was found. They left Washington on their way to Saudi Arabia early Monday morning.
what are they saying: A senior diplomat from a Gulf country told me that the agreement is a step in the right direction and includes some positive developments – but it does not mark the end of the Gulf dispute.
- “Some issues have been resolved,” the diplomat told me, “but the root causes of the discord – the bad personal relationships between the leaders and the big political disagreements over Iran, Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood – remain.”
Bottom line: The agreement, to be signed on Tuesday, will be a last-minute achievement for the Kushner and the Trump administration before President-elect Joe Biden takes office on January 20.