Qatari PM to attend Gulf summit in Saudi Arabia amid blockade

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, who received an invitation last week from Saudi King Salman to attend the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) summit,  and the emergency Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Mecca, has deputed  the country’s Prime Minister Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani to attend the events.

The emergency meeting of the GCC and the Arab League, which is being held on Thursday, ahead of the OIC summit scheduled for Friday, was called for by Saudi Arabia following attacks earlier this month on commercial shipping vessels off the eastern coast of the UAE and drone attacks on Saudi oil installations by Houti militias from Yemen.

Media attention is riveted on one of the first high-level meetings between Qatar and the three GCC countries — Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE — as well as Egypt that have imposed an embargo on Qatar since June 2017.

There are reports that Qatar’s attendance, even if it is at the prime ministerial level, could signal the beginning of a thaw in relations between the constrained neighbors. Kuwait and Yemen both staying neutral in the conflict between the remaining four GCC states, has been working actively behind the scenes to bring about a rapprochement.

Analysts suggest that any reconciliation with Qatar, which shares cordial relations with Iran, would allow Qatar to serve as a mediator in the bitter struggle for dominance in the region by Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Tensions have been rising in recent months, with Saudi Arabia and the US implying that Iran was behind the attacks on ships in the Gulf and on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia. Iran is also believed to be behind the estrangement between Qatar and its immediate GCC neighbors.

However, any further reconciliation and the eventual return of Qatar to the GCC-fold would depend on how events develop on Thursday and Friday in Mecca.