DOHA: US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner was expected to tackle the Gulf crisis and push for progress toward ending the spat during a visit to Qatar yesterday. The official Qatar News Agency reported that Kushner met with the country’s ruler Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, saying they discussed “developments in the region”.
Few details have been made public about Kushner’s trip, which could be his last chance to press diplomatic issues in the region that has been a focal point for the outgoing Trump administration. Analysts expect Kushner will focus on efforts to resolve the three-year-long Gulf crisis, which has pitted a Saudi-led alliance against Qatar, suggesting it could result in limited confidence-building measures.
Cinzia Bianco, a research fellow at the European Council for International Relations, said Saudi Arabia was “considering a transitional trial phase to see if they can start resolving the dispute”. Riyadh, along with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, cut all ties with Qatar in June 2017 over allegations Doha was too close to Iran and backed radical Islamists. Qatar denies the charges.
The boycotting countries have closed their airspace, land borders and sea channels to Qataris and vehicles registered there. That has forced Qatar Airways aircraft to fly over Iran, Riyadh’s archrival and long-time adversary of Washington, paying significant overflight fees to Tehran in the process. Royal United Services Institute analyst Tobias Borck said he expected “some kind of confidence-building measure to emerge from this – perhaps the opening of Saudi airspace for Qatar Airways”.
US national security advisor Robert O’Brien said in November that allowing Qatari planes to fly over Saudi Arabia via an “air bridge” was a priority for the outgoing Trump administration. In return, Qatar could agree that its media, including Al Jazeera, would tone down its coverage of Saudi Arabia, according to another analyst, who declined to be named due to the issue’s sensitivity.
The UAE, which has been Qatar’s most vocal critic since the start of the crisis, is not expected to be included in the latest initiative to resolve the spat. David Roberts, author of a book on Qatari geopolitics, said the UAE has “only ever doubled down on the Qatar issue. So it’s far harder to see how they might pivot”.
Qatar has repeatedly said it is open to talks without preconditions, though has not signalled publicly it would compromise on the 13 demands of the boycotting countries. Past mediation efforts led by Kuwait have come to nothing. Kushner is also expected to push for Saudi Arabia and Qatar to normalize ties with Israel after the UAE and Bahrain forged ties with the Jewish state and Sudan agreed in principle to follow suit. Qatar and Saudi Arabia, both close allies of Washington, have so far held out, insisting the Palestinian issue should be resolved ahead of any normalizing of ties with Israel. – AFP