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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Gulf leaders agree that “long-term genuine grievances” must be addressed to resolve the internal dispute with Qatar, the UAE’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Anwar Gargash, said on Wednesday.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain cut off ties with fellow GCC member Qatar in June 2017, accusing it of interfering in other countries’ internal affairs and supporting terror groups including the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt also joined the boycott.
The bloc’s 40th annual summit on Tuesday had raised hopes of a breakthrough in resolving the dispute, but this did not materialise.
“We are not there yet. That is the view from the Riyadh Summit,” Dr Gargash said on Twitter.
Unlike previous summits since the crisis began, when Doha sent low-ranking representatives, it was anticipated that Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim Al Thani might attend this year, providing an opportunity to ease tensions between the four Gulf states. Instead, Doha sent Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani.
Bahrain's Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid Al Khalifa said Qatar had showed "a lack of seriousness" by sending a representative “who lacked any authority or instruction to end the dispute”.
But Samuel Ramani, an expert on international relations at Oxford University, said the participation of Sheikh Abdullah, the highest-ranking official sent by Doha since 2017, suggests there is hope for reconciliation. However, several issues remain, he said.
“While Qatar has reportedly mulled suspending ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, it is unclear whether it will actually make this change in foreign policy,” Mr Ramani told The National.
"What we are likely to see is a gradual thaw in Saudi-Qatar relations that might culminate in a partial normalisation," he said.
The summit followed a year in which the region witnessed attacks on shipping in the Gulf and on Saudi oil facilities that have been linked to Iran as a retaliation for crippling US sanctions on Tehran.
In his opening address, Saudi King Salman called for regional unity to confront Iran and secure energy supplies and maritime channels.
Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, who has long pressed to resolve the Qatar dispute, commended Saudi Arabia's call for unity.
Addressing King Salman, he said: “God willing, the coming meetings will be better than past meetings.”
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said mediation efforts were continuing but were better conducted away from the spotlight.
GCC Secretary General Mohammed Al Zayani said the bloc was seeking to approach the dispute on two fronts – one aimed at mediation and other to separate the economic, social and political aspects.
“We are moving along two axes – the emir of Kuwait is mediating between all concerned parties, the heads of state have commended his highness for his efforts and thanked him, and the mediation is still ongoing,” Mr Al Zayani said at a press conference on Tuesday night.
At the same time, Gulf heads of state are looking at “separating the co-operation of day-to-day business, military, social, culture and economic co-operation from the issue itself”, Mr Al Zayani said.
Despite the dispute, Gulf leaders at the summit agreed on measures to move ahead with achieving regional economic integration by 2025, including financial and monetary union.
“The challenges facing the region require a strength in co-operation between member states on the economic, cultural, security and political levels that will implement free-trade negotiations,” the summit’s final communique said.
The GCC members agreed to set up a “financial and economic co-operation committee” to help “set up a joint customs union, to amend the unified customs tariff, taxes, and the Gulf common market,” according to the statement.
The financial union would in theory ensure the GCC upholds its initial purpose, which was to facilitate regional economic co-operation, Mr Ramani said.
“But as diversification plans and budget deficits vary across the region, the risks of creating an overly centralised monetary policy remain; we need only to look at the euro experience to remind ourselves of that.”
In order for the financial union to work, Gulf states must have greater mobility of both economic and human capital, as well as deepened trade links, he said.
Updated: December 11, 2019 04:29 PM
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