Even though much water has flown down the Persian Gulf during the blockade one has witnessed a dignified closure of the conflict even if the GCC mechanism for resolution of such future conflicts remains only in the clauses.
By Ambassador Anil Trigunayat
The tight traditional brotherly embrace between Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim and his host Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman of Saudi Arabia at the Al Ula airbase said it all.The occasion happened to be the 41st Gulf Summit whose main purpose was to address the rift and find a consensus forward for security and stability for the Cooperation Council of Gulf States (GCC) that entered its 5th decade. There could not have been a better setting for setting aside the differences, disruption of diplomatic relations and blockade of Qatar by the Quartet (comprising of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt) launched 37 months ago accusing the tiny state of fomenting trouble and terrorism.
Al Ula is a historic city built by Nabateans of the Petra-Wonder of the world (in Jordan) fame over 2000 years ago. Although 13 stringent demands including dissociation from Muslim Brotherhood, downgrading ties with Iran and Turkey and closing down Qatar’s mouthpiece Al Jazeera among others which were dismissed as encroaching upon Doha’s sovereignty and independent foreign policy. Most countries also did not take these demands seriously, even if there was some truth in the allegations. Above all Americans were perturbed even if Trump indirectly stoked the crisis. Hence, they took upon themselves, for their own strategic and security reasons, to resolve it before the Trump presidency ends.
Jared Kushner, Senior Adviser and son-in-law of President Trump has been instrumental in diffusing this crisis as well as in creating the “Arc of Abraham Accords” for ensuring regional security for USA’s strategic allies against the emerging CRIPTQ “ China, Russia, Iran , Pakistan , Turkey and possibly Qatar as an outlier”. He ensured that there were no last-minute glitches. Futility of the Gulf rift was evident, but a face saving was a must. Hence, the late wise Emir of Kuwait and Late Sultan Qaboos of Oman had worked overtime to bridge the differences between the two sides. Hence 41st GCC Summit was named as Sultan Qaboos Sheikh Sabha Summit. Although, it was chaired by MBS and only Head of State to attend was the Qatari Emir it was evident that the key objective of the summit was to bury the hatchet.Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Jaber Al-Sabah, Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, Deputy Prime Minister of Oman Fahad bin Mahmoud al-Said, Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum were the other leaders. Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry of Egypt also signed the Al Ula Declaration as Egypt was a part of the blockading Quartet.
Prince Faisal, Saudi Foreign Minister said at the press conference along with GCC Secretary General Dr. Nayef al-Hajraf “Today’s Summit ends the diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar and We will work together to confront the challenges facing the region”. It was also clarified that all the sides were satisfied by the outcome without referring to the points of contention except on Iran and he said “On Iran, it is important for the countries of the region to have a united stance on its nuclear program and malign meddling and behaviour”.
It will be recalled that the last Summit was attended by the Qatari PM when reference to Iran and some other contentious issues precluded the highly likely possibility of expected rapprochement. However, this time the language is more acceptable, perhaps as the next US democratic Administration might follow the Obama approach and re-join the JCPOA albeit with some riders. As such Qatar had recently condemned attacks on Saudi targets and called the UAE’s normalisation with Israel a “Sovereign decision “. Hence a unified GCC and accommodative stance has been visible . Besides, if in the best-case scenario some modus vivendi is found between Saudi-Arabia and Iran one could expect Doha to play cupid.
Sheikh Tamim and MBC had bilateral talks as well which were attended by the two Foreign Ministers to devise ways to expedite progress on issues of mutual concern. Qatar -Saudi land, air and sea borders were opened . In fact, the Qatari Finance Minister Ali SherifEmadiled a delegation to Cairo the very next day flying over Saudi and Egyptian territory to inaugurate a Nile -Side St Regis hotel built by Qatari Diar at $1.3 bn lying unused due to the blockade . His Egyptian counterpart Dr Maiit as well as US Treasury Secretary Stephen München were present . Qatar has been providing finance to the Egyptians which got stopped after Muslim Brotherhood President Morsi was deposed. One could expect resumption of financial assistance to Cairo from Doha. If one were to go by statements from the participating leaders arguably it can be commiserated that they have arrived at least on a basic minimum agreement and will continue to work on more intractable ones in due course but palpable difference in public discourse will enhance the trust and security of the GCC states. The rampant rhetoric and fake news propaganda against one another will be ended and economic cooperation will restart in these pandemic times when mutually destructive approaches could be far more dangerous.All major countries and leaders have hailed this breakthrough that will ensure reduction in intensity of hotspots in the region.
India has also been quietly working with all parties to reduce the tensions and enter into dialogue to resolve the issues and immediately welcomed the rapprochement.
Ambassador Anurag Srivastava, MEA Spokesperson said “We were pleased to note the positive developments at the recently concluded GCC Summit in Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia. We welcome the reconciliation and rapprochement between countries in the region. We will continue to work with GCC countries for the strengthening of our bilateral cooperation. We also look forward to enhancing our institutional dialogue and partnership with the GCC.” India has developed and deepened strategic partnerships in defence and security, apart from energy security and diaspora welfare, with the GCC countries.In recent months, several high-level visits to the region have taken place.
Foreign Minister Dr Jaishankar visited, UAE, Bahrain, Qatar and Iran whereas MoS (EA) Muraleedharan went to Oman and Petroleum Minister to Kuwait. The Defence Minister went to Tehran while the first ever visit of COAS Gen MM Naravane was to Abu Dhabi and Riyadh which shows the importance attached to the growing and expanding partnership. In fact, India’s West Asia policy has been a remarkable success and the easing of tensions among the GCC countries will help intensify bilateral and regional cooperation as the security dynamic in the region undergoes a transformation.
Even though much water has flown down the Persian Gulf during the blockade one has witnessed a dignified closure of the conflict even if the GCC mechanism for resolution of such future conflicts remains only in the clauses. Sceptics and Realpolitik apart “the New Chapter” in GCC in its 5th decade needs to be written with pragmatism and mutually sustaining trust even when foreign policy objectives beyond the region may have divergent approaches adopted by the constituents.
(The author is Former Ambassador of India to Jordan, Libya and Malta & Distinguished Fellow Vivekananda International Foundation. Twitter : @aniltrigunayat Views are personal.)