Turkey welcomes Saudi-Qatari deal to reopen borders
Turkey has welcomed the end of a nearly three-year feud between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, as the two countries have agreed to reopen their airspace and borders.
“We welcome the decision for the reopening of the land, air and sea borders between Qatar and Saudi Arabia as of tonight. This development constitutes an important step towards the resolution of the persisting conflict in the Gulf since June 2017,” Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a written statement on Jan. 4.
The efforts of Kuwait and other international actors that have contributed to this decision through their mediation and facilitation initiatives are worthy of praise, said the ministry.
Ankara has expressed its hope that “a comprehensive and lasting solution to this conflict will be reached based on mutual respect to the sovereignty of all countries and that all other sanctions against the Qatari people will be lifted as soon as possible.”
“Being a strategic partner of the Gulf Cooperation Council and attaching great importance to the security and stability of the Gulf region, Turkey will continue to support all efforts in this direction,” the ministry stated.
Qatar’s only land border has been mostly closed since mid-2017, when Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain launched a blockade against the tiny Gulf state, accusing it of supporting Islamist extremist groups and of having warm ties with Iran.
The Saudi border, which Qatar relied on for the import of dairy products, construction materials and other goods, opened briefly during the past three years to allow Qataris into Saudi Arabia to perform the Islamic hajj pilgrimage. It was unclear what concessions Qatar had made or is promising to make regarding a shift in its policies.
Kuwait, which had been mediating throughout the dispute, was the first to announce the diplomatic breakthrough through its Foreign Minister Amhad Nasser Al-Sabah. Earlier on Monday, the foreign minister had reportedly traveled to Doha to deliver a message to Qatar’s ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.
While the Saudi decision marks a major milestone toward resolving the Gulf spat, the path toward full reconciliation is far from guaranteed. The rift between Abu Dhabi and Doha has been the deepest, with the UAE and Qatar at sharp ideological odds.
The development marks a breakthrough in efforts to end a diplomatic crisis that has seen Qatar facing a blockade by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt since 2017.
Those simmering tensions came to a boil in the summer of 2017, when the four countries announced their stunning blockade on Qatar, cutting all transport and diplomatic links. The move frayed social ties, separating families who had intermarried with Qataris.
It also pushed Qatar diplomatically closer to Turkey and Iran who both rushed to Doha’s aid with food and medical supplies as it was experiencing a shortage in the first days of the embargo. Patriotic fervor swept through Qatar in support of Sheikh Tamim’s resolve.
Gas-rich Qatar also took an economic hit from the blockade, and its national airline was forced to take longer and more costly routes. It was unclear how the blockade would impact its ability to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
The blockading countries made a list of demands on Qatar that included shuttering its flagship Al Jazeera news network and terminating Turkish military presence in Qatar, which is also home to a major U.S. military base. Qatar has outright rejected the demands and has denied that its support of Islamist groups indicates support for violent extremists.
The decision to end the Saudi embargo comes just weeks after President Donald Trump’s advisor and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, visited the kingdom and Qatar in a final push by the administration to secure a diplomatic breakthrough.
It also comes just ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s swearing-in ceremony. Saudi Arabia may be seeking to both grant the Trump administration a final diplomatic win and remove stumbling blocks to building warm ties with the Biden administration, which is expected to take a firmer stance toward the kingdom.