Saudi Arabia lifts 3-year blockade of Qatar ahead of Gulf summit

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Jan. 4 (UPI) — Saudi Arabia will open air, land and sea borders and lift a blockade on neighboring Qatar in advance of the Gulf Cooperation Council Summit in Al-Ula, at which the emir of Qatar is expected to be a participant.

The Kuwait foreign minister on Monday announced the thawing of relations between the Saudis and Qatar as brokered by Kuwait’s ruler, Emir Sheikh Nawaf.

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“It was agreed to open the airspace and land and sea borders between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the State of Qatar, starting from this evening,” Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Ahmad Nasser Al-Sabah said on state TV, as reported by Al Jazeera.

In 2017, Egypt, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia accused Qatar of being under the influence of Iran, and instituted a blockade, which included banning air travel through neighboring airspace.

Gulf governments also object to the presence of 5,000 Turkish troops in Qatar as a destabilizing influence.

Qatar appealed the blockade to the United Nations International Court of Justice in 2020, which upheld a 2018 ruling by the International Civil Aviation Organization that said the air restrictions violated international law.

Also, Qatar and Saudi Arabia will have to work together as hosts for the Asia Olympic Games in 2030 and 2034. Qatar’s capital of Doha will be the host city in 2030 and Riyadh four years later.

The GCC Summit is being built around “inclusion” and Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani was invited to the bloc’s summit meeting last month.

“The step, which comes ahead of the 41st GCC summit in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, reflects the great interest and sincere efforts being made to ensure the success of the summit, which is held in light of extraordinary circumstances,” Nayef Mubarak Al Hajraf, GCC secretary general, told the Gulf News.

The Qatar government had said it would be pointless to attend the summit if the blockade remained in place.

“One of the pre-conditions the Qataris had was that it made no sense to discuss or sign an agreement as long as it remained under an unjust and illegal blockade,” Al Jazeera’s Jamal al-Shayyal said.

Meanwhile, relations between Iran’s political enemies are thawing across the Middle East, including historic truces between Israel and other Arab countries, as brokered by the outgoing Trump administration under the so-called Abraham Accords.

Iran announced Monday the country would boost its uranium enrichment program to 20% up from just under 4%, which observers fear could allow Iran to speed up the process to acquire nuclear weapons.