Countries of the Gulf and Egypt entered into an agreement at the 41st Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Summit on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, marked the end of prolonged political conflicts in the region. Upon the signing of the deal, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud stated that the agreement has ended the Gulf disputes and it was a win situation for the regional development as well as political stability. According to local newspapers, the announcement of the deal would restore the relationship between Qatar and four Arab countries namely the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. However, a former diplomat of the United States (US) warned that it was just a beginning and needed stronger commitments from the countries since the threats from Iran still persisted in the region.
End of the Gulf Dispute and the Iranian Nuclear Program
The Gulf region has been engulfed with a series of political tensions since Qatar was suspected of developing a close-tie diplomatic relationship with Iran and supporting terrorism. The four Arab countries have cut off diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar in June 2017 accusing the small oil-rich country for supporting and funding terrorist activities. The GCC countries considered that the presence of Iranian influence in the region was a big challenge and had been worried about the existing threats by Iran’s enrichment of the nuclear program in the region.
Acknowledging the significance of the deal for regional security, the Egyptian foreign ministry made a statement saying that the country was having a keen interest in the development of unity and solidarity among the Arab countries. The ministry also emphasized that the regional cooperation must be based on respecting good relations among Arab states and not interfering in each other’s internal affairs. The statement continued, “Egypt values and appreciates every honest effort made to achieve reconciliation between the quartet and Qatar, primarily the efforts of Kuwait over the past years.” Meanwhile, the Saudi prince emphasized, “There is a desperate need today to unite our efforts to promote our region and to confront challenges that surround us, especially the threats posed by the Iranian regime’s nuclear and ballistic missile program and its plans for sabotage and destruction.”
Iranian Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter, “Congratulations to Qatar for the success of its brave resistance to pressure & extortion,” referring to the latest Qatar’s move and deal announcement at the summit. Meanwhile, the minister added, “To our other Arab neighbors: Iran is neither an enemy nor threat. Enough scapegoating-especially with your reckless patron on his way out. Time to take our offer for a strong region.”
Farhan al-Saud, Saudi Arabia’s minister of foreign affairs, stated the turnout of the events at the foreign minister GCC summit was a “very, very strong basis” for regional political stability. On Monday, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, with a warm welcome after a long suspension of diplomatic ties between the two neighboring countries. As the two countries agreed on several deals in the meeting, Saudi Arabia announced that it has lifted its travel and trade blockade against the fellow gulf country. Saudi Arabia finally agreed on Monday to open its airspace, land, and sea borders to Qatar.
The Saudi foreign minister, referring to the latest deals agreed upon at the summit, expressed that the Gulf countries would now foster economic integration and security cooperation. The minister stressed, “We were able to reach the Al-Ula declaration which puts behind us a dispute … among the four countries and Qatar,” adding, “We believe very strongly that the Al-Ula declaration resolves all of the outstanding issues and concerns that the countries’ parties would have had, and that it lays the basis, for now, a very strong, cooperative agenda for the GCC, and also for the region.” The Saudi Prince said that the Gulf countries have agreed to a “solidarity and stability” an agreement that would help to end the diplomatic dispute with Qatar.
Opportunities for Regional Development and Stability
In response to a question about the US interest and political concerns related to Iran, Saudi Arabia’s ministry said that the deal was a win situation for the regional cooperation and hailed it as “a win for all of us.” Acknowledging the keen support from the US and Kuwait acting as a mediator between the two neighboring countries, the minister stated, “Absolutely, President Trump and (White House senior advisor) Jared Kushner contributed to reaching this agreement, working very closely with Kuwait, who has been working on this for some time.” However, he emphasized the regional opportunities for economic and security cooperation by stating, “This agreement is not about Iran or about anyone else. It’s about bringing our countries together and making sure that we work together to deliver prosperity and security for our people.”
Prime Minister and Vice President of the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum welcomed the positive outcome of the summit and posted on Twitter, “A positive summit unifying ranks and establishing fraternity… changes and challenges surrounding us require genuine Gulf strength, cohesion and cooperation as well as Arab depth and stability.”
Meanwhile, the crown prince of Saudi appreciated the efforts made by the US and Kuwait by stating, “These efforts helped us reach the agreement of the Al-Ula statement that will be signed at this summit, where we affirm our Gulf, Arab and Islamic solidarity and stability.” Meanwhile, a former US diplomat to Qatar and Kuwait, Michael Greenwald said the deal was just a “first step” and the countries needed more commitments to ensure feasible regional stability. Greenwald stressed, “There needs to be a much stronger, detailed framework put in place so that this does not happen again,” reflecting the weak relationship between Qatar and other Arab neighbors. He pointed out that the recent agreement to open up Saudi’s aviation service would be a helpful step for the economic cooperation ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup.