calendar Wednesday, 20 January 2021 clock
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DOHA: Qatar has seen some encouraging signals from the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia to resolve the Gulf crisis and the recent flurry of diplomacy in the final days of the Trump administration could signal progress toward solving the crisis, Sheikh Meshal bin Hamad Al Thani, Qatar’s ambassador to the United States, has said.

In an exclusive interview with Al Monitor, a Washington-based news website, which was held after the return of the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo from a tour of the Gulf region, Sheikh Meshal praised the remarks by Pompeo and Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Ahmad Al Sabah in support of Kuwait’s mediation to reconcile the parties.

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“Qatar has been always reiterating that it’s ready to resolve this matter. We have some encouraging signals from the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, and we have been seeing Secretary Pompeo’s last visit to push forward, and we have seen also today some statements from the minister of foreign affairs of Kuwait, and Secretary Pompeo, mentioning that they are supporting the Kuwaiti mediation. So we are optimistic,” Sheikh Meshal said. 

When asked what Qatar was willing to do to move the process forward in the short term, the ambassador said all the parties must come to the table without preconditions.

“You remember for the past four years, at the beginning of the crisis, there were some claims and some conditions and demands which were unrealistic. So, I think if we can put these on the side and come to the table with no conditions, respecting each other, respecting the sovereignty of each other, and talk about the real big grievances, if there are any, put them forward. Qatar is willing to look into them and work with our neighbors to resolve this matter,” he added.

Specific issues

Commenting on specific examples of steps that could help heal the GCC rift, he mentioned “humanitarian” issues, including opening the airspace for travel and the safety of aviation, allowing visits between families and permitting Qataris to travel for Haj and Umrah pilgrimage.

“These three issues could be a very quick win for the Biden administration when it comes to the Gulf rift,” Sheikh Meshal said. 

“No doubt” that GCC unity is also essential for regional security and dealing with Iran, he said. “The fact that today we don’t have a functioning Gulf Cooperation Council is not going to be helpful to the United States.”

Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said on 21 November: “We continue to be willing to engage with our Qatari brothers and we hope that they are as committed to that engagement.”

Asked if Qatar was considering normalizing ties with Israel, Sheikh Meshal replied: “Qatar is part of the Arab Peace Initiative,” adding, “Any normalization has to first start with the Palestinians, conducting negotiations, and ending in a two-state solution.”

“The only country really able today to build this bridge and help the US government, Israel and the Palestinians to reinitiate discussions and start talking together is Qatar,” Sheikh Meshal said.

Biden administration

Commenting on the incoming Biden administration, he said, “I think we can achieve a lot together.”

“I think Qatar could be helpful to the Biden administration in different situations, in different areas, where it could work with the United States to defuse tension and stabilise certain countries in our region. And they can find in us a reliable partner with a proven track record. We will continue to work with the United States to advance the stability of our region, which is in the national interest of our countries and the United States,” said Sheikh Meshal.

Sheikh Meshal became Qatar’s ambassador to the United States in 2017.  He previously served as ambassador to France and as permanent representative to the United Nations.