Saudi foreign minister hints at resolving Qatar blockade

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister has signalled progress may be under way towards resolving the three-year-old rift with its Gulf neighbour Qatar, following a meeting in Washington with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

In 2017, Saudi Arabia along with United Arab Emirates (UAE) Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic and trade ties with Doha and imposed a sea, land and air blockade on the gas-rich nation.

“We are committed to finding a solution,” Prince Faisal bin Farhan said in a virtual discussion hosted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think-tank, on Thursday.

“We continue to be willing to engage with our Qatari brothers, and we hope that they are as committed to that engagement.

“But we do need to address the legitimate security concerns of the quartet and I think there is a path toward that” with a solution “in the relatively near future,” said Prince Faisal.“If we are able to find a path forward to address the legitimate security concerns … that drove us to take the decisions we took, that will be good news for the region,” he added.

The four blockading nations accused Qatar of supporting “terrorism” and meddling in their internal affairs for years. Doha was also accused of being too close to regional rival Iran.

Qatar has vehemently denied those claims.

The Trump administration has been pushing for an end to the blockade and paving the way for a united Gulf against Iran.

Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani has said that his country is ready for dialogue to resolve the diplomatic crisis, but stressed that any solution to the crisis must respect his country’s sovereignty.

In June, Kuwait, a mediator between Qatar and its quartet of Gulf Arab neighbours, said there was progress towards resolving the standoff but little progress has been done.

Last December, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said early talks with Saudi Arabia had broken the impasse but a month later he said that efforts to resolve the dispute were unsuccessful.

Prince Faisal visited Washington for a US-Saudi strategic dialogue at the State Department on Wednesday that included discussions about relations with Israel, the US’ “maximum-pressure” campaign against Iran and the war in Yemen.

Palestinian-Israeli conflict

Pompeo has also urged Saudi Arabia to recognise Israel, in what would be a strategic boost for the Jewish state amid normalisation with the two other Gulf Arab kingdoms – the UAE and Bahrain.

Bahrain, which tightly coordinates its foreign policy with Saudi Arabia and the UAE on September 15 signed the so-called Abraham Accords with Israel at the White House.

But Prince Faisal said the focus should remain on the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks before any formal rapprochement between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

He emphasised the importance of negotiations between partners “willing to talk”, adding that a solution to the conflict could be possible “if we continue to talk, to come together with a common goal of a settlement that works for all parties.

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